Wed. Oct 16th, 2019

Audience segmentation in public relations

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By Brenda Bukowa
So this week, I have been thinking of the need to define and segment audiences in Public Relations (PR) work.

Coming from a background of journalism, my mind is accustomed to targeting audiences in my literary work.

I have been thinking though, perhaps, just like in journalism, defining one’s audiences in PR is a critical first step for a public relations strategy and has potential to help determine the messaging, tactics and channels of communication that define subsequent steps of ones PR efforts.

This week, Brenda’s Corner discusses the audience segmentation matrix.

The need to understand who you are targeting and how to reach them effectively is vital to the success of any communication process.

In my opinion, without this understanding, a communication effort is flying blind – wasting marketing spend and sometimes wasting resources.

Let me state that regardless of how well brands think they know their audiences, increasingly sophisticated technology makes it possible for brands to gain a deeper understanding of their target market – and how to reach it.

Now, just in case you are like me that scratches their head when feeling confused, let me explain what audience segmentation is, so that I don’t risk getting you feeling confused and subsequently scratching your head.

In very simple terms, audience segmentation is the process of dividing an audience into smaller groups, with similar characteristics, wants, and needs that are selected according to the organisation’s communication and strategic objectives.

Let me stress that segmenting publics or audiences before any public relations intervention is a necessary task for strategic public relations.

Let me make mention also, that, 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 — for example, if one is in the higher education business, it is important to remember that what resonates with students often or may not resonate with the staff.

In the same vein, what would resonate with staff may not resonate with the public.

It is dangerous therefore, for PR persons to rely on gut instinct when choosing the primary audience for a campaign or a simple communication effort.

Instead, it is advisable to do extensive research to determine what will give the organisation the biggest “bang” for the money and the longest mileage for the efforts.

Bottom line is, carefully picking the right audience and tailoring messages to suit the target audience is an important part 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 or effort.

However, let me clarify that in audience segmentation, a number of considerations must be given careful thought.

Some people, including top management of some organisations and even PR practitioners themselves think that PR is all about Media Relations.

Therefore, much effort and attention is paid to issuing press or media statements and responding to press queries.

However, it should be known that PR involves more than that. Typically, stakeholders of an organisation for example a government agency will include: government itself, shareholders, board members, staff, suppliers, Labour unions, customers and the public – who all need to be engaged and not necessarily through the media.

Therefore, a successful PR practitioner is not necessarily one who is often more vocal or visible in the media but one who understands the organisation’s various audiences and its segments and helps their organisation engage or manage its various stakeholders.

BRENDA BUKOWA is a LECTURER, RESEARCHER and MEDIA CONSULTANT at the University of Zambia in the Department of Media and Communication Studies (DMCS). She is also a PhD RESEARCH FELLOW at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) with support from the South African National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS). For comments, call/WhatsApp +260975280558

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