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.