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Continuing to develop a strategic public relations plan:
Identifying target audiences for First Prize Glass

This page will walk you through the process of identifying and describing the most critical publics and target audiences with whom our hypothetical company will need to interact.

Please note:   This page continues a hypothetical exercise in strategic planning for a fictious company -- First Prize Glass -- with which you are assumed to be familiar. You should also read the article Strategic planning steps before proceeding.

For the best learning experience:   Prepare a list of the 20 or more most important publics or target audiences for First Prize Glass. Then, compare your list to those presented in the article. But, remember: there can be as many differences in lists of target audiences as there are in mission statements. The goal isn't to match some theoretical ideal list; it's to develop a list that the company's communication team and top management sees as including all important groups with whom the company needs to maintain relationships.

Michael Turney, Ph.D., ABC
Professor Emeritus, Northern Kentucky University

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Developing a public relations plan


To begin building relationships a public relations practitioners need to know with whom their client/organization needs and wants to have relationships. In addition to brainstorming by the public relations team, a thorough audience identification process requires talking to people in all parts and at all levels of the organization, as well as talking to public relations people working for similar organizations and experts familiar with these types of organizations and the current business environment.

With whom does First Prize Glass want to have relationships?

The first step is to prepare a list of all the different groups of people with whom First Prize Glass is interested in having a relationship, as well as any other groups or publics who might have an interest in the company or its actions whether First Prize Glass has an interest in them or not. These latter groups which some authors have called "hidden publics" or "latent publics" are not always obvious or easy to identify, but they can be critical to an organization's success. Finding them requires that you don't limit yourself to looking at the world from your organization's perspective. You need to look at the world more broadly than that, and you also need to look at your organization through the eyes of the rest of the world.

It's quite possible, for instance, that First Prize Glass wouldn't realize that the local Audubon Society needs to be included in its public relations plan as a key public. From the company's standpoint, there's no direct connection between the company and the Audubon Society. There's no apparent reason to think of the Audubon Society as anything other than a small group of people who individually and occasionally might buy glassware.

This view, however, fails to take into account the Audubon Society's special interest in the land adjacent to First Prize's property, an interest with First Prize Glass may not even be aware of. That land is part of a large farm that has been untilled and unworked for decades.

  • In First Prize's eyes it's simply the perfect and logical place for expanding its plant when and if that time ever comes.
  • To the Audubon Society, it's one of the best bird-watching habitats in the state. It's also a frequent site for field trips hosted by the Society that attract several thousand bird-lovers per year.

Should First Prize ever try to buy that land and expand its industrial facility without first addressing the Audubon Society's concerns, it could trigger a public relations war with long-term negative repercussions for its reputation. On the other hand, if a properly executed public relations planning process identified Audubon and any other initially unrecognized publics' concerns, so First Prize could approach them in a spirit of mutual adaptation, the same situation could produce a win-win situation.

  • First Prize Glass might be able to expand its facility while still preserving the most important areas of the bird habitat.
  • And, because First Prize Glass would have initiated this positive outcome by approaching the Audubon Society, it would gain the added benefits of being seen as a good neighbor to the entire community, as environmentally-responsible, and as animal-friendly.

In the early stages of planning, lists of publics should be as broad and as inclusive as possible even if they become so large they could not be reasonably managed. They will ultimately be pared down a more manageable size but, at this stage, they should be all-inclusive to avoid overlooking anyone.

Also realize that listing a group as a public does not necessarily mean that the public relations staff will be solely responsible for dealing with this public. In some cases, the public relations staff may have very few, if any, dealings with certain publics. The company's finance department, for instance, may take the lead and have final responsibility for all interactions with stockholders. Nonetheless, stockholders are still an important public and need to be included as such in the overall public relations plan.

Many PR plans consider four types of publics.

Please note: None of the lists of taerget audiences which follow are all-inclusive, nor have they been edited or pared down to make them more manageable. Think of them as a first, rough draft of a work in progress, not a finished product. They're meant as a starting point to get you thinking about the possible publics and target audiences that ought to be included in First Prize Glass's public relations plan. Further thinking by the public relations staff and discussion with other managers within First Prize Glass would undoubtedly yield dozens of additional target audiences that would at least double, if not triple or quadruple, each of these preliminary lists.

Internal publics  include everyone who is an integral part of the organization. Employees are the most obvious and most numerous internal publics; others include stockholders, employees' families, and other closely-tied associates.

In the preliminary stages of planning, any group or sub-group that has a distinguishing characteristic that sets it apart should be listed as a separate public or potential target audience. Instead of listing employees as a single public, for instance, it would be much better to distinguish hourly employees, salaried employees, factory workers, clerical staff, maintenance workers, day shift employees, night shift employees, full-time employees, part-time employees, probationary employees, front-line supervisors, middle-managers, department heads, women, men, etc. That way you're less likely to overlook anyone or to ignore distinguishing characteristics that might make their perceptions of the organization different than other people's or that might affect the best ways of communicating with them.

Don't be concerned if the groups are not mutually exclusive. It's highly likely that some people will fit in more than one of them. Using the examples cited above, an employee could be in all of the following groups: salaried employees, factory worker, night shift employees, middle-manager, and women.

We all belong to many different publics and groups, and their importance to us and our consciousness of them changes constantly depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. And, just as these "memberships" have shifting significance to us, there may be occasions when First Prize Glass wants to talk to its employee as a night shift worker, other times when it wants to talk to her as a middle-manager, and still others when it wants to talk to her as a woman.

Later in the planning process it may be decided that some of these differences are insignificant and can be ignored. In that case, two or more groups from the preliminary list can be combined in a single larger target audience.

Internal publics
First Prize Glass
hourly factory workers

general laborers

glass-making artisans


union representatives

office staff

part-time and/or seasonal staff

off-premises sales and distribution staff

supervisors and mid-level managers

executive management team

corporate board of directors


Muellhardt family members who hold large shares of stock

Muellhardt family members who are primarily concerned with family pride

External publics  in simplest terms include everyone with whom the organization wants to interact that isn't a part of the organization and thereby one of its internal publics.

For some practitioners, this distinction between internal and external publics is the only one that matters. They don't bother with any further categorization of their publics. However, many more practitioners do as I've done here and organize publics/target audiences into four categories, two of which -- media and regulatory publics -- could just as accurately be treated as sub-categories of external publics.

External publics
First Prize Glass

prospective customers

prospective employees

employees' families

local civic leaders

all members of the local community

nearby residents affected by plant operations

Audubon Society and others concerned about nearby bird habitats

suppliers and vendors

the glassware industry

the trophy industry

direct competitors

professional and trade associations

union officials and union headquarters office staffs

local banks and financial institutions

Chambers of Commerce

Media publics  are singled out and treated differently than other external publics because, strictly speaking, they are not a final audience the organization is trying to reach. They are an intermediary which is targeted as an audience only so it can be used as a conduit to pass messages along to the media's audiences which are actually the ultimate audiences that the organization is trying to reach.

First Prize Glass
local and regional general circulation media

local business media such as the Cincinnati Business Courier

national business media including The Wall Street Journal and Business Week

glass industry publications

prize and trophy publications

museum publications

trade and professional association journals that could promote the use of crystal/glass trophies as prizes and awards

wine and fine dining publications that could promote First Prize Glass stemware as an up-scale choice for entertaining

Regulatory publics,  which some sources prefer to call authoritative publics, are singled out from other exteernal publics because they have some sort of official or financial power over the organization that can be invoked to control its actions or punish its misdeeds. This power and influence warrants special treatment. Among the most significant are federal, state, and local government regulatory agencies. Others include professional or trade associations, policy-making boards or commissions, and employee unions.

First Prize Glass
state and county licensing boards which issue business licenses and zoning permits

US Department of Labor and Ohio Department of Labor which set and enforce employment standards

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service which regulates employment of non-citizens

State of Ohio fire marshal

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) which sets and enforces workplace safety standards

Consumer Product Safety Commission which is responsible for toxicity standards for tableware

state and federal Environmental Protection Agencies which enforce manufacturing pollution standards

Internal Revenue Service and State Tax Commissions

US Social Security Commission

US Customs Service, Department of Commerce, and other similar agencies in other countries which control imports/exports


Now the target audiences need to be organized and prioritized.

After exhaustive lists of publics and potential target audiences have been compiled, they should be carefully studied and, where appropriate, pared down to a more manageable level by combining similar and closely related groups into a lesser number of target audiences. This requires analyzing the groups to find those which may have distinguishing characteristics that conceptually set them apart from one another but whose differences are insignificant in terms of how your organization relates to them. You may also decide that some identifiable groups simply aren't important enough to your organization to warrant keeping them in your plan.

There is no universally agreed upon number of publics that ought to be included in a public relations plan. Some include less than ten; others include 50 or more. Any notion of "an ideal number" of target audiences depends solely on the size and nature of the organization but, generally speaking, it's reasonable to aim for a prioritized list of publics/target audiences numbering in the upper-teens to mid-twenties. Depending on the nature of the organization, they may be concentrated in one or two of the four types of publics or be spread evenly across all four categories.

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