It has been said that there are no “hard-to-reach” audiences, only more-expensive-to-reach audiences.

Public relations and community relations efforts that seek to meaningfully engage with these population groups represent particular challenges due to cultural, language and value barriers that make establishing a dialogue difficult. Even if you have been successful working with many diverse ethnic groups, the most insular populations defy standard marketing techniques and require expert knowledge, close community contacts and creative tactics to achieve program goals.

An effective public outreach program should leverage existing tactics, including email blasts, outbound calling, targeted mass media and work through community-based organizations. But it must be acknowledged that isolated communities will naturally require a higher cost per capita than more mainstream groups.

Hard to reach audiences often equate to underserved audiences, meaning they have lower income, less cultural integration with society at large, and poorer health and education. Achieving participation with these groups can be challenging for PR pros because of language barriers but more importantly because of a lack of understanding of “the system,” mistrust, and values that are not recognized by a broader program’s key messages.

These issues must be understood before an effective PR strategy can be developed. It is impossible, however, to generalize across populations and each group faces its own issues and idiosyncrasies. Attitudinal, demographic and practical challenges all combine in varying degrees and contribute to the creation of barriers. Practical challenges can include, for example, access to or facility with technology. This is not to generalize that underserved populations lag in the adoption of technology. In fact, some of these groups have a higher penetration of mobile technology than the population as a whole, for example.

Another factor to consider when developing an effective PR or outreach strategy is the value of the information presented to your target population and how that is reflected in the messaging. People are motivated to accept information and participate in programs when doing so serves a function for them. For example, emphasizing “low income assistance” might carry a stigma in some populations. For others, saving money might not be a driving incentive. In these cases, indirect messaging, such as emphasizing saving money for children’s education, could be a more effective way to increase participation in a program.

It is important to examine existing marketing materials and develop messaging that resonates with each of the populations being targeted. Simply identifying hard to reach groups and using the usual methods is not adequate for achieving results, especially if the same tactics and messaging is used across differing population groups. Any effective program must understand the individual barriers and develop effective means for overcoming them or use tactics known to have worked in the past.