Addressing the Correct Audiences

As a sophomore at the University of Maryland striving for a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication, I realized I wanted to concentrate on the Public Relations Track due to my passion for reaching out to other people and educating them on a product or cause. It seems like an easy task right- informing people about a certain topic? Little did I realize before taking Intro to Public Relations, that there are many factors that go into planning and addressing your targeted audience. It is not only important to do research about your audience, but figure out how you are going to target the information to that specific public, and make sure they decode the information properly.

Encoding and Decoding Model

Most PR practitioners are put in the position when they need to address an audience or group of people. This process entails for the the sender or speaker (in this case a PR practitioner) to first encode their ideas or thoughts into a message that can be easily understood. This message is then sent through the channel of the senders choice. Typically, for PR practitioners, these channels include either in person, over social media, direct mail, newsletter…etc. The message then is received by the decoder (targeted audience), and they choose to analyze the information how they want to.

For most PR firms, having experience with public speaking is essential. However, recently social media has become more crucial and necessary in regards for qualifications in job descriptions. Most audiences have some form of social media account that they use. Does this mean that face to face communication isn’t essential? Absolutely not. It really depends on the audience you are trying to reach out to when you decide on what channel to use. For example, if your audience is a retirement home, I don’t think tweeting out statistics will do you justice. However, if your campaign is reaching out to college students, the social media channel might be the route to take. Rose Propp, a junior studying Public Relations, shares her viewpoint of the appropriate channels to use:


Who is the Public? 

The “public” is defined in this situation as a group of people who all have attributes in common. Targeting a group of random people for your campaign, cause, or product will not work out in your favor. Below are the three types of publics that PR practitioners address:

  1. Primary Publics: This is your main targeted audience. These people are the stakeholders that your firm wants to focus on.
  2. Secondary Publics: These people may also be impacted by your proposal, however, it isn’t your intention for you to deliver information to them.
  3. Intervening Publics: This public acts as a channel to shape or change audience opinions. Other names include “third-party endorsements” or the “Oprah effect.”
    • The “Oprah effect” refers to when a product isn’t selling well on the market, Oprah would then go on her show and tell her audience how much she loves it.  Hence, spiking prices up for whatever the product was.

PR Models of Communication

There are four ways in which PR practitioners can choose to address their audience:

Typically, all of these models can be used together or interchangeably when addressing an audience. An example of how good PR is shown through using these models of communication is the Truth Campaign. This campaign is funded by the American Legacy Foundation, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing teens from smoking. They target their audience (teenagers), by airing graphic commercials on  channels such as MTV and VH1. These commercials don’t ever criticize teenagers for smoking, however, are guided towards sending a message that will hopefully influence them from quitting.

The Truth Campaign also displays a wide variety of statistics on their websites, as well as stating accurate facts about the harms of smoking, which falls under the category of Public Information Model. However, by using celebrity endorsements, and commercials such as the one shown above, the Press Agentry Model is used to persuade teenagers to quit smoking. In no way would the Truth campaign be a Two-way Asymmetric Model because they use research when displaying their commercials and on their website. Two-way Symmetry is used however because they allow teenagers to reach out to the campaign to seek individual help on how to quit smoking.

Importance of Research Before Addressing your Public

The importance of researching your audience before addressing them cannot be emphasized enough. Knowing your audience beforehand helps you as the presenter to make decisions about what to include in your campaign, presentation, or press release. Informing your public of information that they knew prior, or educating them on a topic that they have no interest in will result in not only them being disinterested, but the potential to lose their interest completely. If your audience is on the smaller side, handing out a survey prior could be beneficial. If you are addressing a younger audience, videos and or topics related to current trends might be applicable for them retaining the information. Propp further explains the importance of researching audiences as well as gives a personal example of when she had to address a public:

For Public Relations practitioners, understanding every aspect of your audience is essential to making sure your information is heard and understood correctly. Furthermore, by doing prior research, knowing the public to the fullest extinct, making sure they understand the message, and deciding which PR form of communication to use, will ultimately lead towards being known as a successful public relations practitioner.


Author: carlygreenberg12

University of Maryland Public Relations Student. Class of 2018

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