Case Study: MDOS Communications Audit

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Michigan Department of State

Communications Audit

Goal: Conduct an audit of the Michigan Department of State and its communications department to evaluate its effectiveness in communicating with all key audiences, especially its customers. 

Research:

Martin Waymire researched the many changes faced by MDOS at the time, which included: a newly elected Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson; two recently adopted proposals, which would drastically change the MDOS’ work; and the REAL ID law passed by Congress.

We reviewed staff members’ skill sets. To better understand the communications needs of the department, we conducted many in-depth interviews of current and former staff, including:

  • MDOS senior executives for a total of three meetings
  • Each member of the MDOS communications team, totaling 10 separate interviews.
  • Three former MDOS communications directors who served under four former secretaries of state (Republicans and Democrats)

Finally, to understand the priorities of the department, we reviewed about a dozen documents prepared by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s staff that detailed the department’s policy priorities and focus areas so we could assess whether the communications team had the tools, resources, and organization to support the priorities and focus areas.

Action Plan & Communication Overview:

Newly elected Secretary Benson had priorities she wanted to be implemented, including excellent customer service. Proposal 2, passed the same year she was elected, established the Michigan Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission to draw political district lines for the Michigan Legislature and the state’s congressional members.

Proposal 3, also passed that year, changed Michigan election laws, making voting more accessible. The change directly affected millions of Michiganders and required MDOS to plan and execute significant ongoing public education and communications strategies and tactics.

The REAL ID law passed by Congress set minimum and consistent standards for driver’s licenses and personal ID cards issued by the states (the responsibility of MDOS in Michigan). Like Proposal 3, REAL ID potentially affected each and every Michigan resident. Informing Michigan residents about the program through an effective communications campaign would prove critical to its success.

Each of these changes required large-scale efforts from the MDOS communications department. Therefore, we made several recommendations to ensure a smooth and effective transition.

Evaluation:

We successfully delivered the following recommendations to the MDOS communications department, which adopted many aspects of them:

  • Boost the department’s social media communications by creating a formal social media team that will include content creators (writers, videographer, and graphic design).
  • Hire (or contract for the services of) a trained graphic designer to support the many formal and core design needs of the department. (At the time, a regular MDOS employee with no training in graphic design was trying to handle the department’s needs.)
  • Reorganize the communications director position to have both a communications director/director of public education and strategic communications, as well as a press secretary/media relations specialist. (At the time, one individual served all these roles at MDOS.) The MDOS now has a chief external affairs officer, a media relations officer, and a press secretary.

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Lansing, MI 48933
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