Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Of publics, messages and objectives...

Is it better to set objectives before choosing publics or to choose publics before setting objectives?

This is a difficult question to answer. I can see how both ways could be beneficial, but I agree with the authors of the text; they feel it is best to set our objectives first and then chose our key publics.

If we are using the 10-Step Strategic Communications Planning Matrix, during the Background portion of our Research section we will identify and profile all potential publics that may be affected by the current problem or opportunity. First, we must sit down and identify all of the potential publics. Notice that right now we are referring to them as "potential" publics. Later on we will identify our "key" publics. This should be done in a brainstorming session "to ensure that no potential publics are left behind and everyone has a chance to participate" (Wilson & Ogden, 68). Even though this list is comprehensive, we still have work to do. Once we have our list of potential publics we then must create in-depth profiles for each public. These profiles should contain demographic and psychographic information. We must also state the organization's current relationship with the public, the public’s influentials and the public's self-interests. Remember, these are only our potential publics. We have not yet decided if these are the publics we are going to focus our public relations strategies and tactics on.

Now we are ready to set our objectives. If we try to choose key publics before we set objectives we run the risk of having public-specific objectives. Some may argue that this is exactly what we want. However, we must "recognize that any given communications effort may need to encompass publics other than those identified as organizationally key" (W&O, 112). Our objectives need to be flexible enough to be able to apply to more than one public. Furthermore, by choosing key publics before setting objectives we are focused on who we want to reach rather than what we want to accomplish.

What's the point of meticulously of taking time to research and segment our publics if we only use mass media to reach them?

This idea has become somewhat of a hot button with me. Research is not easy. It takes time; it takes work; it takes money. Furthermore, it takes considerable time and effort to select and segment our key publics and respective messages. When we do all this, yet choose to simply "shotgun" the message through the mass media, all of our previous efforts have been in vain. It doesn't matter how good your research is, how well defined the core problem is or how amazing your publics are if they never hear the message. Wilson and Ogden have stated, “We would do well to remember that just because a medium is designated mass does not mean that the publics consuming the information are mass (W&O, 114).

I believe there is a perception both within PR and without that if your organization is mentioned on the local news station or featured in the paper that everyone will see it want to change their behavior. How false this idea is! We must remember that people "choose to perceive a message only when we design it specifically to appeal to them" (W&O, 114). I am not saying that we never use mass media to reach our publics, we just need to make sure we use mass media outlets to appeal to the self-interests of our publics.

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