One size does not fit all

browningyork Browning York News, Communication audiences, Communication lessons, Planning, Strategy communication

A drawing of a target with an arrow in the middle with the words strategy, plans and goals written round the outsideImagine you work for a charity that is developing an ambitious new strategy. You have decided that you can deliver a more secure future for thousands of young people by campaigning for systemic change, not just offering frontline services.

This is exciting news for your organisation. You have been involved in the development of this new approach, as have selected colleagues from around the charity. You know that different perspectives have been taken into account and bold decisions have been made.

As a communicator, you can’t wait to share this exciting news. In order to focus attention and not water down the messages, you decide to send out an all employee and volunteer email. It’s visually appealing and is designed to build interest and engagement in the new direction.

You give a couple of high-level ‘hooks’ of information. Then you invite everyone to attend a special launch event where the Chief Executive will give more details of how they can contribute to the future and what it will mean for their role.

But when the day of the launch comes, this is what you see:

Photo of rows of empty chairs in a room

So what happened?
With the best of intentions, you have failed to consider the different needs, motivations and experiences of your audience.

  • Sam was on holiday and when he came back he had 150 emails – the all staffer was not at the top of his priority list.
  • Jay misunderstood the message about campaigning and is now worried that he will lose his job when the youth club closes.
  • Marcia read the email title and didn’t understand what it meant, so deleted it without opening.

  • These reasons (and many more) resulted in the message being missed, misunderstood or ignored. So the recipients didn’t turn up to hear more about the exciting future of their organisation.

    The CEO probably wasn’t too pleased about turning up to speak to an empty room either….

    How can you avoid such a disaster?
    You focussed on keeping it simple, when the audience would have been happy with something a bit more detailed that gave them the information they were looking for. It would also have been a good idea to issue the message via more than one channel, to reach out more widely.

    Considering the diversity of your audience and their communication needs should be part of your strategic communications planning. You need to understand them, their motivations, perspectives and experiences.

    All sorts of things will impact how they interact with your communications. You need to consider factors such as:

  • Their shift patterns
  • Geography – where are they based and what is their working environment like
  • Lived experience – what has happened to them before
  • Their gender
  • Their background – areas such as their education, the communities they connect with and so on.

  • To be able to tailor communication to different audience groups, you need to really put yourself in their shoes – think about things from their perspective. Not what you think their perspective should be. If you’re not sure, ask them!

    Without this tailoring, it may not be possible for everyone to have equal access to your comms.

    Above all, remember that their experience may very well be different to yours.

    If you would like to hear more about this topic, I am chairing a panel on supporting equality through internal comms at this year’s Strategic People Conference in March. Come along and say hello if you’re there!

    Please get in touch if you are looking for support with understanding the diversity of your audiences.

    Until next time
    Sarah