Cheat Sheet: Audience Identification


For many years, I worked for a large, global public relations agency. In that time, there was a recurrent theme among my clients - they wanted their campaigns to be aimed at “the general public.” It didn’t take long to show them that this was an ineffective approach for having a true impact.

Defining your target audience is critical to successful communications. While it may feel constraining to define a specific outreach target, remember you’re not leaving anyone out. You’re just choosing where to focus your resources - time, money, staff - while having the greatest impact.

When I work with clients on audience identification, we spend time researching, brainstorming, doing more research, and then categorizing for maximum effect. It’s a valuable, and highly recommended, process. But if you’re not in a position to undertake that effort now, don’t worry. Here’s a quick cheat sheet to bridge the gap.

Know your broad categories

When you’re considering who you’re trying to reach, try breaking down your targets into these three categories:

  • Primary - People from whom you want the most action. These are the folks who matter most. Everything you say, do, and write should be aimed directly at these people.

  • Secondary - People who help you reach your primary audience. For example, if your primary audience is state level lawmakers, then a secondary audience might be local media covering the state house.

  • Tertiary - Professional and social organizations that provide access to your primary and secondary audiences. If you’re trying to reach those state level lawmakers, then consider accepting the invite to speak at the NCSL meeting.

Now, what do you do with this information?

Your primary audience will drive all of your communication, determining what messages you use, where you schedule speaking engagements, what events you schedule, and what media you reach out to. It also will determine your social media content, including what you might blog or podcast about and what resources you’ll share through sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. If an activity does not reach your primary audience, consider whether or not it makes sense to dedicate time and effort to it. It’s okay, and smart even, to step away from activities and events that aren’t serving your primary audience.

Stay on target

Targeting your audience will maximize your resources and increase the effectiveness of your communications efforts. If a more comprehensive audience identification exercise isn’t in the cards for you right now, that’s okay. Do some interim targeting to keep you moving forward. You’ll be glad you did.  


If you want to dive deeper on your specific audience identification needs, hit up the Contact page and let me know.

What's Your Plan?


I admit it, I’m a sucker for New Years optimism. Bring on the resolutions! Anything is possible! Champagne and glitter add just the right amount of sparkle to those health goals, those business goals, and…those communications goals. Because Historians, you need to be communicating. A communications plan will help you expand your reach, maximize your effectiveness, and better manage your resources (time, money, and staff.) Let’s take a look at steps you can take to put together a clear and executable communications plan. And wrap up with links to some great resources to help you get started.

Just take five steps.

A good communications plan creates a framework that sets expectations and keeps public outreach focused and effective. We’re going to take a look at the five steps you can take to up your communications game in 2019.

  1. Set your objectives

  2. Do your research

  3. Identify your strategy

  4. Choose your tactics

  5. Evaluate your progress

Step 1: Set your objectives

Of course the work of historians has always been important, but somehow today’s environment makes it seem even more urgent that historians are not only creating good scholarship, but are sharing it with all the right people. What is your role in this? What do you have to contribute? Where are you needed most? Choose your objectives. Make them clear and concise, and try to limit them to no more than three.

Some communicators recommend doing ‘market research’ first before choosing your objectives. I’ve found there’s something particularly authentic about deciding what you want to achieve and using that information to do some informed digging to see if what you perceive as a need is really, indeed, needed.

Example of an objective: I will be a resource on immigration policy.

Step 2: Do your research

So, you’ve decided on a couple of objectives, now it’s time to dig a little deeper on what you want to do and whether or not it makes sense outside your office. This doesn’t have to be a major deep-dive or take hours-upon-hours of time, but the more information you gather, the deeper your insight will be and the more you will be able to think beyond yourself. And isn’t that the ultimate goal of communicating?

Let’s use our example objective from above: I will be a resource on immigration policy.

Some questions to answer might include:

  • What are the major immigration policies in play? What historical context can I provide that will be helpful?

  • Who needs to know more about immigration history - The media? Policymakers? Advocates?

  • What communications resources do I have? Media lists? Staff? Social media capabilities? Relationships? A budget?

Desktop research, phone calls and email outreach, taking a colleague out for coffee, these all are ways to gather information to help you better understand your objectives and how your communications plan will help you achieve them. Don’t be afraid to revise your objectives as you learn more. Structure is good, but communications is inherently pliable. It’s okay, even necessary, for course-corrections throughout the process.

Step 3: Identify your strategy

Your strategy explains how you will achieve your objective. This is the part in the process that can sometimes become messy as we tend to start thinking tactically. Hold tight, tactics are coming. For this, we want to think more broadly. Returning to our example:

Objective: I will be a resource on immigration policy.

Strategy: I will provide historical context for immigration policy by selling my book about immigration history, generating coverage in policy-focused media, and participating in speaking engagements.

Step 4: Choose your tactics

Now we can get tactical. What specific tasks will you do that are aligned with your strategy to achieve your objective? (Aaaah...see how that’s all coming together?)

Some tactics you could include in your plan:

  • Identifying your target audience and creating messaging

  • Monitoring immigration issues and policies - issues management

  • Creating a targeted media list and pitching media

  • Creating an editorial calendar for blogging or podcasting

  • Developing a speaker’s bureau to guide your public speaking activities

  • Actively engaging in social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram)

Step 5: Evaluate your progress

A communications plan can’t just be in your head. Write it down! Your plan should identify where you are now, determine where you want to be, and outline a process for getting there. Then check in on how you’re doing throughout the year. Are you adhering to your editorial calendar? Have you scheduled those speaking engagements? How’s your pitching going? You may find you need to make mid-course corrections based on the evolution of current events, unexpected budget constraints, or new opportunities.

Time to get to work!

Communications planning can be incredibly straight-forward or more detailed and complex, depending upon your needs. What works now may not work next year. You may learn that you can be effective with less or you really do need more. Following are links to some resources to help you get started. And if you want a deeper dive on any of this, let me know.

Communicating Beyond Academia: Tips for getting out there in really important ways.

Television Interviews: A primer, written by your’s truly for History Communication, on how to prepare for television interview

Blog Power: If you’re the writey type, here are some thoughts on blogging to keep in mind.

Podcasting for Days: If you’re the talkey type, here are some good resources for creating, improving, and promoting podcast content.

Step Away From the Podium: Some ideas for maximizing public speaking opportunities.

NCPHactive: Conferencing From My Laptop

When I first saw the notice for (Re)Active Public History I immediately put it on my calendar. I hadn’t participated in the first Twitter mini-con organized by the National Council on Public History (NCPH), so I was intrigued to see how this would work. Would it be a glorified Twitter chat? Would it be akin to tweeting a hockey game?

This Twitter mini-con did not disappoint. Let’s take a look at how things went down - the format, the value, and some tips for participating the next time an opportunity arises.

NCPH Active Timeline.png

Your Conference Program

The set up of NCPHactive was remarkably effective. Each presenter had 30 minutes to “present.” They would send out a series of tweets, attaching photos, slides, memes, and links to a variety of wonderful resources. Allison Tucker, at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, provided particularly helpful links to their Front Page Dialogues, a fantastic resource to help historic sites incorporate current events into their programming. Each presenter left some time for Q&A at the end of their session, and I was impressed by how well they responded to questions.

One interesting advantage to their format is that there weren’t overlapping presentations, so conceivably, one could attend every session. And because this all happened on Twitter, one can always go back through the conference hashtag to dig up threads of missed sessions. I approached it like an in-person conference, attending the sessions that had the most direct connection to the work I’m doing now, and picking up others as I could.

Conferencing Inside and Out

I approached this mini-con expecting to gather some good information, but skeptical that much would be accomplished in terms of networking and making connections. I was right about the former, and surprisingly wrong about the latter. I was able to “meet” people I hadn’t discovered yet, and had wonderful side conversations in my DMs. It was not unlike your typical hotel atrium chatter at a traditional conference.

I found this format to be especially appropriate for NCPH. Taking place on Twitter meant this history was about as public as it could get. I loved that I was participating in direct conversations that were reaching unintended audiences. (My hockey followers got an inside look at my history nerdiness.) And it was great to be able to tweet my non-history contacts who I knew would find relevance in the content, saying, “You should jump in on this.”

Get In On This Action

If you’re not on Twitter yet or you’re just getting started in social media, check out this piece by John Fea about history Twitter and here are some thoughts on conference tweeting that might be helpful.

Conference Twitter.png

If you are on Twitter and ready to present, excellent! Here are some tips that might help your presentation go a little more smoothly:

  • Write out your Tweets in advance, that way when it’s go-time all you have to do is type things into Twitter.

  • Number your tweets and compile them in a thread. This will make it easier for people to follow and for folks who may not attend your session live to go back and scroll through your information later.

  • Use the hashtag on every tweet and every response to questions.

  • Use visuals - pictures, charts, links to resources - but take into consideration that your audience may click away from your tweets to better view your content. This is a good thing! But you should then time your tweets accordingly.

There was some overlapping in presentations as people retweeted previous presentations or promoted sessions coming up, but this was minimal. If it happens during your presentation, don’t worry, it’s all good. And as much as I hate Tweetdeck, this was one situation where I really appreciated it. I was able to follow the sessions I was in while not missing follow up from other sessions. It’s a bit messy, but worth it to see multiple conversations and mentions.


NCPH and its speakers did an excellent job with (Re)Active Public History. It definitely wasn’t a typical Twitter chat. The structure and advanced planning gave it a professional feel. And the open engagement felt like a virtual networking session (only less awkward.) Twitter mini-cons can be an excellent vehicle for historians to be able to share their work and engage with each other and with audiences outside our traditional history nerdland. I hope other organizations will consider following NCPH’s footsteps.

And to NCPH...kudos on a job well done!