Are You Talking to Me?

One of the most important differences between passable communications and great communications is a sense of the audience. Most of the famous flubs in PR were a result of not understanding an audience. You’ve probably heard someone talking or read something and thought “do you hear yourself?” It’s more common than it should be.

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Almost everything I write has to pass through at least three filters before it sees the light of day. For example, if I’m writing a press release, these four filters are just the beginning:

  • The intended audience - Is my point clear enough that the people I need to reach are going to get it? Is it interesting enough for them to care? Do I make it clear what I want from them?

  • Journalists - Is this easy to cover, interesting, and timely enough to be considered news? Are all the facts straight? Will the journalist know what pieces they need to cover the news, and can I provide them?

  • Client - Did I hear my client’s need? Is this something the client would say? Will the client understand what I am going to accomplish with this?

  • General audience - Is there anything that can be taken the wrong way if spread on social media out of context? Is there anything that is more complex than it needs to be in case there’s someone who might be interested but doesn’t know it yet?

On top of that, I might consider the perspective of the client’s competitors, industry watchers, partners and many others. After getting filtered and edited and reality-checked for all of the possible audiences, it can be easy to end up with something that doesn’t really speak to anyone.

The last test for any message in any medium is the “Taxi Driver” test. If anyone in the intended audience might ask “are you talking to me?” you failed. All of the other audiences are important, but only one matters.

If you can’t get the story through all of the other filters and still be clear to the people you need to get a reaction from, you need to consider changing the medium (how about a phone call?) or the format (would a case study work better?). If nothing else works, you have to consider leaving the story untold, which would be a shame, but not an actual loss because in either case, you aren’t, in fact, communicating.