Know Your Audience: Publics and Stakeholders

Article 2 min
To achieve the communication plan goal, you need to understand who you're talking to, and what motivates them.

Identify Your Audience

Your audience is made up of individuals who are essential to achieving your goal. Knowing who they are, their importance to the goal and how they will advance the strategy and receive the message is crucial. Identifying the stakeholders and key publics within that audience will allow you to prioritize the use of communication resources.

A stakeholder is any group or individual who is affected by or can affect the achievement of an organization’s objectives. A stakeholder might include all troops, dependents and local citizens in surrounding communities. Public Affairs (PA) planners communicate with stakeholders based on the extent to which they may be affected by–or might affect–operations, actions or outcomes.

A key public can be made up of stakeholders, individuals or groups that have become more active in communication efforts. Key publics have a shared interest in or concern about an organization. Your key public is who your future objective, strategy, tactics, themes and messages will be tailored to.

When writing a communication plan, your key publics are those whose participation is required for the plan to be effective.

Illustration depicting some questions to ask yourself when identifying who your audiences are and whether they are key publics or stakeholders.
Illustration depicting some questions to ask yourself when identifying who your audiences are and whether they are key publics or stakeholders.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 200908-D-PA656-0006

It is important to note that new stakeholders and key publics may emerge over time and require a unique strategy. For example, lobbying groups or adversaries would warrant special attention if they are trying to change the operation. PA planners should continually assess the information environment, and be ready to pivot.

Prioritize By Situation

Time and resources may be limited, so planners should prioritize the need to communicate with the public based on their level of activity.

  • Non-Publics: People that do not face a problem/opportunity
  • Latent Publics: People that could become active or aware of the problem/opportunity
  • Aware Publics: People that recognize a problem and could become active in the problem/opportunity
  • Active Publics: People that are ready to do something about a problem. With an active public, you will generally see the following traits:
    • Typically high level of involvement
    • Think their actions can affect the outcome
    • Actively seek information and act on it
  • Intervening Publics: These are the people that typically convey information to key publics
    • Media
    • Opinion Leaders
    • Third Parties (e.g., NGOs)

Stakeholders and key publics can also be grouped by attributes. Some of the determining factors are:

  • Their importance to the organization’s survival and success
  • Whether they are a threat or an advocate
  • Their power to influence, their legitimacy
  • Urgency — when they might act

Segment Your Audience

Both your key publics and stakeholders need to be segmented and combined into groups so you can reasonably and appropriately reach them.

  • Demographics: Who are they (age, gender, marital status, income)?
  • Psychographics: Why are they involved?
  • Motivating Self-Interest: What's in it for them?
  • Other Questions:
    • What's their relationship to the organization or issue?
    • Are they an influencer or intervenor within the community?
    • What objective can they help you accomplish?
    • What are the viable communication channels for reaching them?