> Your Audiences
Zeroing In on Audiences: It's All About You, Not Me
Most people begin their communications—in both their personal and public lives—with what they need to say rather than what others are ready or able to hear. This simple strategic error can create many misunderstandings.
Your partnership’s communications strategy is far more likely to succeed if you consider which audiences can help advance your work, and then tailor your efforts to their perspective. The more narrowly you can define your audiences and the better you understand them, the more likely it is that you can craft messages that will reach and motivate them.
While at first glance, you may have 20 or 30 audiences you are trying to reach, you must consider how many you can realistically target given your resources. It might be better to really reach five audiences than to “sort of” reach 15.
It can be painful to pare the list of priority audiences down to five. However, it is rare for your communications efforts to rise or fall on reaching more than five audiences in one year.
Priority audiences can be selected according to the following criteria:
- the ease with which you can reach them;
- how critical they are to the success of your objectives;
- their ability to reach secondary audiences on your behalf, thus maximizing your efforts; and
- whether they have already bought into your goals or issues.
Make a list of all the audiences you currently consider important to the success of your vision. Then rank them in priority order. Don’t forget to consider your internal audiences—a successful partnership relies on strong participation from its member organizations, who themselves have internal audiences.
Once you’ve chosen your top audiences, there are several questions you need to ask:
- Why is this audience important to you?
- Why does your audience care about your partnership and/or its issues?
- What is this audience’s stage of readiness for communicating with you? Are there prejudices or barriers to hearing your messages?
- What do you want this audience to feel, think or do?
- Is this a distinct audience? (This is important. If your audience is too general—e.g., all adults over the age of 65 living in the city limits—you will find it difficult to reach them as a group. Better: Adults over 65 at the city’s subsidized housing. Even better: Homebound adults over 65 who are currently clients of one of your partnership’s member organizations.)
- How does this audience best receive information?
- Are there particular members who have credibility or influence with the target audience? Who are they?
- How will you know if you have successfully reached this audience?
Your success in communicating with an audience lies in your ability to truly know those people. Give some serious thought to their primary concerns, hopes and fears. Do some research—even with audiences you feel you know really well. Talk to a few people from within that group to learn more about them.
Keep in mind that it is easier to move audiences to think, feel or do if they already have an affinity for your partnership or for the work you’re doing. Reaching out to older people who are currently tied in to various programs to aid them will result in more success than reaching out to home-bound, isolated elderly. It’s not that you want to ignore the latter group—but it may not be the best starting place.
And, if you find it impossible to truly understand a target audience, take a step back and assess whether you have chosen too broad a group. Breaking an audience down into several more homogeneous audiences can be the key to success. A good rule of thumb: If you can attach names to the people or determine an exact number of people, then you’ve narrowed your audience to a group that can be reached successfully.
The Media as Audience and Vehicle
When considering audiences, be prepared to think about the media (reporters, editors, etc.) as both an audience and a vehicle for reaching other audiences. To persuade a reporter to pay attention to you, approach him or her the same way you would approach any audience.
Figure out what the reporter's self-interest is (usually it's to get a good story in a timely way), why the reporter might or might not be interested in your issue, and what messages would work best to achieve your goal. From the report’s point of view, ask “What Makes News?” If you succeed in persuading the reporter to write about long term care or your partnership, you will then be reaching a larger secondary audience.
Next, we look at your partnership’s internal audiences, and the challenges and opportunities these audiences present.