literature review








team members


Reaching Your Audience:
Matching Media Channels to Target Audience


       The research provided here will help public affairs practitioners analyze their audiences and determine the most effective media channels to use in reaching them. This will save valuable time and resources while improving the effectiveness of the command’s public affairs programs.
       The market segmentation typology and additional information developed by the research team will work for public affairs professionals because the material is based on sound research in communication theory on how and why people choose certain media channels and market segmentation techniques routinely used in communication analysis and business planning. The specific research on which the new typology is based, namely Morton (1998a, 1998b) and Scott and O’Hair (1989), supports using the information in a practical application.
       A review of research demonstrates the need for audience segmentation in public affairs practice. Cutlip and Center (1971), whose work in public affairs continues to be the foundation for training at the Department of Defense Information School, charge public affairs practitioners with finding "ways to communicate with unseen, remote publics over lines lengthened and distended by physical distance and psychological difference, and complicated by multiplying barriers to communication" (p. 98). To do this, the public affairs practitioner must identify the organization’s publics (those groups of individuals who share a common bond or interest and a sense of togetherness).
       According to Morton (1997), understanding the differences in minority values, attitudes about family, religion, self-image, and similar factors will allow public relations practitioners to effectively communicate their messages. Public affairs practitioners must be careful in their audience analysis to avoid the spiral of silence identified by Noelle-Neumann (1984). This phenomenon occurs when individuals who perceive their opinion is popular express it, whereas people who believe their opinion is not popular tend to remain silent. As the spiral continues, one side of an issue gains more publicity than the "silent" side. Fear of isolation caused by expressing unpopular opinions is a key element of the theory, but generally does not apply to innovators, change agents or leaders of new movements.
       Public affairs efforts directed at a specific group or coalition will require more specific research to determine the group’s specific beliefs, values and attitudes. Essential to the process, equal to development of the message, is determining the correct channel to ensure the message reaches the target audience (Cutlip & Center, 1971).
       The audience segmentation typology will assist public affairs practitioners in identifying and reaching these audiences. Additional resources provided in information tables will assist public affairs practitioners in locating information on specific audiences to which general data do not apply. Together these tools guide the public affairs practitioner to the next step – choosing the best media channel for the audience just defined.
       Schramm (1969) points to why carefully selecting the communication channel is essential. People may mishear radio announcements because they are often doing something else while the radio plays in the background. Many people read only the first few paragraphs of a newspaper or magazine story, so the full message may not be received. Making the communication channel fit requires research into audience members’ situations, behavior patterns and especially media uses and preferences (Richardson, 1969).
       Each time public affairs practitioners must disseminate a message, they make decisions about how that message should be distributed (Richardson, 1969). Questions addressed, perhaps unconsciously, include what types of people are likely to respond favorably to a certain type of printed message and how people in a target audience get their information.
       Larson (1983) warns that persuaders must be very careful about choosing their media channel. Public affairs practitioners should carefully consider which channel will be most useful in getting the attention of the target audience. Knowing the makeup of the target audience is essential to choosing the right channel, getting the audience’s attention, and ensuring the audience’s needs are addressed in the message.
       If public affairs practitioners fully understand the segments that their target audiences comprise, they can choose the appropriate channels of communication to reach that specific public. This is important because compared to baby boomers members of other market segments are more sophisticated about media and view and use television and other media differently (Ritchie, 1995).
       Communication changed dramatically in the last half of the 20th century, particularly in the effect television had on media consumption patterns. The internet promises to make a similar impact on media choices as the 21st century begins (Napoli & Ewing, 1998).
       Americans are changing their patterns of media use. A study reported in Mediaweek (Consoli, 1998) found more media use overall but less daily television viewing and less use of newspapers. Use of books and magazines increased, particularly time spent on business and trade publications. Adults surveyed reported spending more time with recorded media such as videos and music, and more time at the movies. While television viewing is reported decreasing in this study, it remains the most used media among adults surveyed. Broadcast and cable television combine to account for 31 percent of adults’ daily media use. The communications industry envisions an increase in media use through 2002 (Schwirtz, 1998). The nation’s strong economy will continue to encourage spending on media and entertainment, especially cable television, video services and online services.
       Hintze and Lehnus (1998) point to the increase in use of personal computers as further evidence that media consumption patterns are changing. Their internet-based survey found young adults aged 16 to 24 spending significantly more time watching television and listening to radio than reading newspapers and magazines, with time spent on the internet ranking between the two. Their survey shows internet access (excluding e-mail-only use) rose from 53 percent to 64.3 percent of males and from 47.3 percent to 61.6 percent of females just from 1996 to 1997. Internet access increased among all demographic groups, with education level being a key element: over 90 percent of college graduates reported recent internet use, while less than a third of respondents who did not complete high school reported such use. The survey showed a 6 percent drop in internet use among males in the 20- to 24-year-old bracket as compared to their counterparts aged 16 through 19. The survey also showed greater internet use among whites than minorities and greater use at school and home than at a friend’s or relative’s home.
       Research by Napoli and Ewing (1998) revealed similar levels of broadcast and print media use among internet users, regardless of how much time respondents reported spending on line. The researchers predict that internet use will increase dramatically with the rise of the Net Generation, which they see as the largest group of consumers since the baby boomers. Given that this group – perhaps as large as 30 percent of the United State population – has grown up surrounded by digital media, their patterns of media use are likely to be much more reachable by these means than previous generations. Napoli and Ewing cite research characterizing Generation X as slackers, materialistic and cynical, while the Net Generation has been described as independent, assertive, and competent critical thinkers. Napoli and Ewing conclude from their study that, while internet usage is increasing dramatically, traditional media use is unaffected by the growth of the new media channel and advertisers can still use traditional means to reach the Net Generation.
       This research clearly shows that the world of communication technology has been changing rapidly and is poised to continue doing so, yet experience finds many public affairs practitioners making crucial communication decisions out of habit or convenience rather than based on theory or research. Public affairs practitioners often have neither the time nor the expertise to research changing community patterns or media channel preferences. The materials presented here can help public affairs practitioners make their channel selections quickly, with a minimum of pre-research, and back up their decisions with theory and hard data to convince commanders that the right choice was made.