Different Audiences, Different Strategies

Different Audiences, Different Strategies

How many of us really think about the audiences for our communication efforts, beyond the obvious?  

Dr. Brad L. Rawlins, of Arkansas State University, offers a four-step process for prioritizing stakeholders in his Gold Standard paper available at InstituteforPR.org.

1. Identifying all potential stakeholders according to their relationship to the organization
2. Prioritizing stakeholders by attributes
3. Prioritizing stakeholders by relationship to the situation
4. Prioritizing the publics according to the communication strategy

The use of the term “stakeholder” encompasses what PR academics call “public” and what we typically refer to as “audience.” But for Dr. Rawlins, there is a difference, as stakeholder is a broader term, and public refers to the relationship of stakeholder to message. 

Too often, PR pros are capricious about how they decide where to place most focus, the most resources and effort. Dr. Rawlins’ paper offers a clear argument for a more disciplined way to do so. I typically prioritize according to the objective. What do we need to get people to think, feel or do through our communication effort? In essence, that’s the foundation of my consulting method.

With common objectives reaching across different audiences, sometimes you’ll need to look more deeply, which is the point of the question I asked at the opening of this post.  Even defining audiences can be a trial — we really need to be specific. I assume we can agree that external stakeholders need to be sub-divided, and we should agree that it’s not enough to simply say, “employees.” We need to define communities within that group.

Dr. Rawlins examines various theories in the paper — don’t let that scare you off. The fact is that too many of us are ignorant of theory and its applications. That makes us quite a bit different from other C-Suite staff which are much more firmly grounded in management theory, finance theory and of course, legal theory.

Especially interesting for me is the idea that too often we're paying attention to the loudest of the stakeholders, without any real understanding of their power (or lack thereof) or their position among our various stakeholder groups. Dr. Rawlins' view is that there need to be multiple points of analysis to determine which stakeholder needs what type of attention. It's not just a question of impact; sometimes there are different reasons for applying different strategies. 

Read the paper - It's good stuff! 



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