ResearchDefining your audience is a critical first step for a public relations strategy and determines the messaging, tactics and channels of communication that define subsequent steps of an outreach campaign.

For example, our water conservation behavior change campaigns conducted in San Diego and other parts of Southern California present a wide range of possible target audiences. These include homeowners, renters, businesses, consumers, visitors, tourists, etc.

Another example, public infrastructure projects can impact different types of segments of the community. Residents, businesses, schools, other community facilities and visitors in a community can all be affected but should have tailored messages about what is happening around them and why.

Focusing on the right audiences is important for several interrelated reasons. First of all, limited budgets typically mean that all audiences cannot be addressed at the same time. Related to this, different audiences often require a different set of messages — what resonates with business owners often doesn’t mean anything to homeowners, for example.

Experienced public relations firms don’t rely on gut instinct when choosing the primary audience for a campaign. Instead, at Cook + Schmid, we do extensive research to determine what will give us the biggest bang for the buck and the longest mileage for our efforts.

To continue with the example of water conservation, at Cook + Schmid we examine what measures have already been taken, how much water is saved by taking a range of actions (changing to more efficient fixtures, replacing a lawn with native or drought-tolerant landscaping, etc.), and how likely residents or business are to take that action.

Only after determining the audience where we can have the greatest impact and what action will yield the greatest results, or in the case of construction outreach after understanding the very detailed specifics of the impacts, do we begin to build a strategy.

In the case of water conservation, these variables are quantified and used to develop a scale for each action, and corresponding audience. For example, it is possible to calculate how much water can be saved by each water conservation measure, and how many businesses or residences have already taken the action or saved water (and how many therefore remain who can act). We also use surveys to determine the likelihood residents or businesses will actually do what we are asking.

The results of this kind of analysis are crucial for the success of a campaign. For example, replacing a water-thirsty lawn with drought-tolerant plants saves a lot of water. But this is a more costly and time-consuming option that very few people will actually do it.

On the other hand, fixing a single leaky toilet doesn’t save much water, but is relatively inexpensive and less complicated, if residents are given guidance. This means a lot of people will fix their leaking toilets – cumulatively amounting to a greater amount of water saved.

To continue the example of construction outreach, discussing the long-term benefits of new or upgraded infrastructure might resonate better with residents or business. And highlighting short-term benefits might make more sense to people who use community facilities in a specific area and are only there for short periods of the day or certain days of the week. Understanding who exactly is being affected and what is of value to them helps to create a more effective communications strategy.

Bottom line is, carefully picking the right audience and tailored messages are important parts of building a successful outreach campaign. Selection of the audience should be based on quantifiable data rather than a shot in the dark. Do the right research and you’ll achieve great results that will justify the investment in a public relations campaign by your client.