March 2009 Vol. 14 Issue 1
New audiences may require new ways to communicate
Q&A with Steve Cain

It seems that those who know the value of Purdue Extension use it. While those who don’t, well, they don’t. That’s why many of the same people show up for some Purdue Extension programs time and time again. This is good, but many Purdue Extension County Extension Directors looking to reach out to non-traditional audiences commonly ask the following question.

Question: How do I get new people into my programs?

Answer: Take a step back for a moment and consider this: When you want new or different results in anything, you have to change the process. That’s true with communication too. If new people aren’t attending your events or using your programs – and you know they are good for new audiences – you have to analyze your communication methods.

That sounds simple, but it’s plenty hard to do when you are rushed just to get the normal news releases, news columns, and e-mail outs. But shaking up your communication routine, even if that involves taking chances on new ways of communicating, is necessary at times. The choice on when to switch things up depends on the audience you want to reach.

When I want to reach a specific audience I often ask people from that audience where they get information and how they want that information packaged for them. Learning this information often reveals obvious ways that my communication can be changed, such as converting the message to a specific language, making it so that the blind can hear the message or read it in Braille. But there are also more subtle ways.

Some of your readers may find the look and feel of your newsletters too institutional — for example, members of faith-based organizations. Rather than distribute your newsletter directly to that organization’s mailing list, consider talking with the organization’s leader instead. If you demonstrate to the leader how your program will benefit the people in that organization, then the leader will be better suited to spread the word. When this happens, you’re just providing the important information to the leader rather than trying to make the case with every member of the group.

Another, more subtle change is using more visual communication and fewer words. Busy people are continually bombarded with messages. Even 250 words can be daunting to a good reader who already has plenty to do. Your audiences may miss the nice news release that you wrote for the local paper. So why not try making your message more noticeable and less wordy?

Have a program on child care? Post an adorable picture of a baby with the simple words: “Child Care Tips. Call XXX-XXXX.” Or for the busy, frazzled parent, you could use a picture of an unruly child squirming to get out of someone’s grip. “Need Child Care Tips? Call XXX-XXXX.” Change the phone number to a URL if appropriate. Post these around town at libraries, stores, day-care centers (as long as the day-care manager/owner doesn’t see this as competition), and other appropriate locations. Post it on a Web site. Or, for young parents, put it in a blog.

Another simple, but overlooked way to reach new audiences is to ask your traditional audiences to share the wealth. People don’t think about helping you promote your program, but if you ask them to, and provide them the tools, they might.

After a successful meeting, consider giving the people who attended five or so business-card sized pieces of paper with information about your program. Challenge them to think of five people who don’t know about Purdue Extension who might benefit from it. Ask them to hand the cards to those five people and encourage them to contact your office.

Remember, if you are getting the same people over and over again, it may be time to supplement your traditional communication with something different. Don’t abandon your traditional communication unless that isn’t working either.

If you have tried reaching new audiences and it worked, share it with me. We’ll share it in On Target.

Steve Cain, cain@purdue.edu

Do you want On Target to cover a topic that interests you? E-mail your ideas to Kevin Leigh Smith.