Lecture 4. The Basic Elements of Strategic Communication: Audience, Messages, Channels, Speakers and Time
Hello, dear friends! Last time we talked about values and trust, these key features of genuine communication in contrast with manipulation or propaganda. Now let’s move to the basic elements of communication.

The first and the most important one is the target audience. Then there are content (or a message), a speaker who delivers the message, and a channel that you use to convey the content. Some experts also point to another element, which is very important in our day, and that is time.

Thus, these elements answer the following questions: Who are we talking to? What do we want to say to them? Who should say it? How should we say it? And when?

Let’s look at each of these elements one by one.

As we have already seen, the most important of these is the target audience. Only after determining our target audience will we be able to answer the remaining abovementioned questions and then to determine the remaining elements. That is why dealing with the concept of our target audience is the most important task for a communicator.

From the very start, our task is to define our target audience as accurately as possible. This definition cannot be broad. We cannot say that our aim is “the broad public”, or that our customer is “a person with cultural needs”. We have to narrow down the field of our audience as far as possible. For example, “year three to six university students in the capital”. Moreover, we have to determine as accurately as possible our audience based on so-called social categories: sex, age, education, income. The best thing is to literally create in practice a portrait of this target audience: you can create a collage using clippings from a fashion magazine of your imaginary addressee. It should be a portrait in an interior. This type of visualisation will be very helpful when developing a communication plan. Then there is an analysis of our target audience. We should ask the following questions: What are the needs of our addressee? What are his or her values? What matters most to him or her in life or work? What would he or she not be able to sacrifice under any circumstances? By understanding the value framework, we would be able to have a deeper understanding of our target audience and tailor our communication more accurately.

Further, based on the analysis of the target audience, we formulate the message, that is what we actually want to say. A universal formula for a successful message is statement + evidence + illustrative case. But this formula can be applied differently. If our addressee is a rational person, then we use figures, studies, statistics and the statements of experts. If we need to have an emotional impact (and it preferable to do in all cases), then we create a striking image and use striking quotations from people that belong to the same group as our target audience.

If we plan strategic communication, then there are several techniques to help you create messages. Firstly, each of our messages shall refer to our mission or the overall goal of our project or organization. For example, we are the organisers of an art gallery, so our mission may be the discovery of new names in painting and adding cultural value to our city or our country in general. Each and every one of our messages shall refer to this idea, even when we promote a new exhibition or comment on the latest bids at Sotheby’s. Also, the following exercise is very helpful for finding the wording to our strategic messages. Try to give a clear answer to the following question: ‘What do we want our ... (partners, competitors, sponsors or donors, officials, businesses...) to say about us?’ Answers to these questions will be your key services and competencies that you offer to the environment. And build messages around these answers for each of these groups. To create a basis for the messages it is good to draw the so-called tree of topics, where the trunk of the tree is your mission or the overall goal of your project or organization, and its branches are your competencies and services which are also the topics adjoining the mission. If we look at the same case of an art gallery, the trunk of the tree will be the ‘new names in painting’ and the joint topics will be new trends in painting and in art in general, cultural management, painting as business and investment, cultural policy, museology and gallerying, art and the social position of an artist. And many others. Also, if your team is made up of more than 3 persons, it will be good if each topic will be assigned to a member of your team or of your close partners to give comments on the topic. Talking about topics, it will be useful for you to articulate the following points: what areas do we never discuss, and what are the areas we can discuss but with particular care. There might be situations where the positive effect from our communication is so poor in comparison with the damage done by a bad phrase or an action. So it is better to play safe and zone our action and communication field. In any case, this field will still be large enough to think of plenty communication opportunities if a systemic and proactive approach is used.

Do you remember when we were talking about topics earlier, that we mentioned commentators? So, let’s move to the next element — speakers. These are the ones who voice our messages, or, to be more precise, the ones through the mouth of which we put our messages. What is the key trait of a speaker? He or she must have credibility with our target audience. Therefore, we should clearly define the person or persons enjoying respect and trust with our addressee. Sometimes, we may be experts in what we do but still lack charisma or skills, as our audience may think, to voice our messages personally. There is nothing bad in that. We might be good at just one thing, we cannot satisfy all tastes and wants. So, that is why it is very important to find someone who possesses that credibility and skills. That could be someone from among our target audience, or that could be experts, partners, officials or business people, donors or sponsors, or even celebrities. So, it is credibility that matters the most!

Let’s move to the next element. Channels! How are we going to deliver our message to our target audience? The most important about channels is their relevance to our target audiences. It’s quite hard to communicate, for example, a Christmas Ball to elderly people via Facebook, isn’t it? Or, for example, a rap party by putting ads on a family channel. That is why we should clearly know what channels our audiences use to get information and which of them are most trusted. And those will be the channels we need, to use them as our content delivery tool. I say once again, as with any other elements, to identify channels you need a comprehensive analysis of your target audience.

Time! Nowadays, when every second brings us lots of new information, it’s crucial to put out the message at the right moment. Even ancient Greeks knew that. They created a special word for that — kairos, meaning moment, the right moment. Well, we need to feel that kairos and use them. How should we do that? We need to monitor global and domestic news. This will give us the ability to adapt to the trend. You may offer to look at a current media story from the perspective of your business line. Like, for example, there is an election campaign. You may suggest to discuss how candidates see the preservation of cultural and historical heritage and to provide a comment on this issue as an expert. Or offer a news story about cultural events that were visited by the candidates in the last 2 months. If you plan your own media events (press conferences, briefings, etc.), you’d better do that before noon and on the first days of the week when journalists and editors are not yet overloaded with information and news. Such scheduling of a media event will be helpful to prevent your story from being lost in tons of other news. It is also important to avoid the situation when your event clashes with other loud events which may steal your coverage. Any anniversaries, holidays or professional days is always a good opportunity to push your story and messages. Reporters will always need news stories, so let’s help them and offer our new vision.  

We will leave other useful techniques and tips to improve communication for next time.

  • key elements of communication are the target audience, message, speaker, channel and time

  • the most crucial of these elements is the target audience and all other elements of communication are defined on the basis of detailed analysis of the target audience.

Goodbye and see you!

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