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How do you define “general public”?

11 January 2011

Kirsty Kitchen wonders if it’s time we started to reclassify target audiences

Tessa Jowell raised an interesting point in an opinion column in last week’s Independent Viewspaper

Amidst her defence of the Labour party she made reference to the fact that the traditional people classifications – A, B, C1, C2, D and E – are increasingly meaningless in a world in which 75 per cent of people identify themselves as being somewhere in the middle of society (British Social Attitudes Survey 2009).

Understanding motivation

Few would disagree with this, and yet it begs the question how, then, do communications professionals go about defining their general public audiences?

Many charities, even if their beneficiary group is niche, feel a need to reach out on a general public level to build awareness and drive fundraising. But although they will know their service users incredibly well, they don’t always put the same investment into understanding those who they want to persuade to give their time and money to support the organisation and its work.

When you think about it, that’s an odd situation, and in large part it will be down to the limitations in terms of time and money available. But how can you ask for something if you don’t understand what will motivate people to give it?

Defining by personal experience

There continues to be a clear donor profile – the older, educated and reasonably well-off woman –  whose time and cash so many charities are competing for. She’s certainly a valid target, but let’s not forget how much the world around us has changed in the last couple of years. Volunteer managers have recognised the opportunities in recruiting those who have been made redundant or had to reduce their working hours, as well as young people who are struggling to find work after education. But shouldn’t we think more widely across the board, not just when it comes to traditional volunteering?

People don’t just think of themselves in terms of the job that they do, the amount of disposable income they have, or their level of education. They are motivated by personal experience, and influenced by a huge web of friends, family, colleagues and community connections. If you cast your net too wide, you’ll be wasting time and effort in speaking to people who might have the time and the money you’re after, but would only be interested in giving it to a charity doing very different work to your own.

So next time you’re developing a campaign that has a "general public" bullet point in the audiences box, make sure you invest the time and effort in understanding who they really are.

Kirsty Kitchen

account director, Amazon PR