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Quinnipiac Assignment 04 – ICM 527 – Defining Publics

Let’s look at defining publics in PR.

Super Bass-o-Matic ’76 – you’ll never have to scale, cut or gut again!” – Dan Aykroyd

Defining Publics

Dan Aykroyd being interviewed at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I confess that’s the first thing I thought of when I finished this week’s readings, because it’s all about the slicing and dicing.

Key Concepts

For the typical strategic planner, the universe of possible listeners, publics, customers, etc. does have its limits. Unless you’re talking about oxygen or water, most products and services don’t apply to everyone. And even if they do, there are geographic limits. Selling snow tires to Eskimos, or discussing John Stuart Mill with folks in Venezuela, is hardly practical if you’re in Kansas City. Hence there must be divisions. This is how publics are defined.

According to Smith, (Page 57) “A public is a group of people that shares a common interest vis a vis an organization, recognizes its significance and sets out to do something about it.”

He further adds, “A public is like your family. You don’t pick them; they just are.”

While a public might simply exist, defining its parameters is well within the strategic planner’s purview.

Tuten & Solomon mention that there are several ways to segment markets and publics, and they are often based on psychology or characteristics (e. g. demographics or benefits). Geography, demographics, psychographics, benefits, behaviors, and technographics are all ways to divvying up people.

A public isn’t a random sampling of individuals. Rather it is a consciously measured slice of the populace. To go back to the bass mentioned in the Aykroyd quotation, a public isn’t the puréed fish, an undifferentiated mass whose sole characteristic is that it was fish at one time. Instead, a public is the intact tail or the fins. It’s a defined piece of the whole.

Applicable Current Events or Timely Organizational Challenges; Theorizing “Publics”

One well-segmented website is Wattpad. Wattpad is a large self-publishing platform whereby anyone can post an original book. Rather than simply dumping all submissions into one big pile, Wattpad instead divides them by genre and by some sub-genres.

For example, Fantasy, Horror, and Paranormal are more generalized genres, but Wattpad also offers sections on vampires and werewolves. Works can and do cross genres, but the site will only allow one genre to a work. The author must choose or, if he is she makes an error, the moderating team will correct matters.

Furthermore, there is another slicing of the submissions with respect to a ratings system. The author selects an age range for the piece. Again, if the age range is incorrect (e. g. a book with explicit sex scenes is in the bucket for all ages), then the moderating staff will correct the oversight.

Multiple Publics

Because individuals can be members of several different publics, Wattpad doesn’t make anyone choose where they go on the site. Within the confines of the Canadian (the site is based in Toronto), American, Filipino, and other legal systems, members who are over eighteen years of age are free to investigate whatever they choose.

However, within each genre, there are specific moderators who handle those works. They make some choices to promote certain works over others, based on quality and not just read counts and other quantitative measurements.

A twenty-one-year-old French woman searching for books that she likes can potentially be a member of the Chick Lit-reading public. Or she may be the French public, the female public, and the eighteen-to-thirty-year-old public, all at the same time.

Defining Publics and Stakeholders

If Wattpad is looking to get her to join the site, e. g. she’s at the stakeholder stage as is defined by Kim, Ni, and Sha (Page 753), then their mission is decide which problem she needs help in solving. Is it a lack of good French novels? Or is it a desire to read books written by people like her? Is it an appetite for Young Adult or Chick Lit publications?

As Kim, Ni, and Sha add (Page 753), “In most cases, publics approach organizations hoping to gain organizational acknowledgement of their concerns and proactive corrections to the problem.”

If other sources of literature are ignoring our hypothetical user’s problems, then Wattpad can be well-positioned to provide a solution. And if this woman’s public turns out to be large, e. g. there are thousands of similar young French women searching for new reads, then Wattpad can do well by positioning itself as the solution for these problems.

How do the Different Approaches Compare and Contrast?

In comparing Smith to Kim, Ni, and Sha, and Tuten & Solomon, the approaches are pretty similar. The idea is, at essence, to whittle the population down to manageable, homogeneous chunks. Kim, Ni, and Sha (Page 758) talk about segmenting across problems and issues.

For our young French woman,  her problem of finding her favorite kinds of books may be something she shares with others. Then, under this approach, those people could be Japanese, or male, or middle-aged. All they have to share is their desire to read a particular type of novel.

Demographics

For Tuten and Solomon, the problem is more of classic and semi-classic demographics. They look at the social technographics research as shown by Forrester Research as one way of understanding a particular kind of public. Our young French woman might be a Joiner (a person who maintains a profile on social sites) or a Spectator (a reader of the content on social sites).

Smith, instead, looks at (Pages 61 – 63) Categories of publics, dividing them as follows:

  • Customer
    • Secondary customers (e. g. customers of customers)
    • Shadow constituencies (no direct link to the organization but can still affect perception of it)
  • Producer – providing input to the organization
  • Enabler – groups serving as regulators by setting norms or standards for an organization (e. g. professional organizations of governmental agencies)
  • Limiter – competitors, opponents and hostile forces.

Customers

In Smith’s view, the French reader is a customer and perhaps not much else. Smith further subdivides publics into their relationship with issues (Pages 74 – 76).

A nonpublic public is “a group that does not share any issues with the organization and no real consequences exist to or from the organization.”

A latent public (also called an inactive public) “shares an issue with the organization but does not yet recognize this situation or its potential.”

An apathetic public “faces an issue, knows it and simply doesn’t care.”

An aware public “recognizes that it shares an issue and perceives the consequences as being relevant, but is it not organized to discuss and act on the issue.”

And finally an active public “is discussing and acting on the shared issue.”

Our French reader is probably somewhere between aware and active, depending on how diligently she tries to solve her problem of not having books to read.

The Key Takeaways From This Week’s Readings on Defining Publics

Possibly the most applicable takeaway is that you must clearly define a public. As Smith says (Page 60), publics are –

  • Distinguishable
  • Homogeneous
  • Important
  • Large enough
  • Accessible

This is not jello that we are trying to nail to the wall. Instead, we must be defining publics, no matter how the strategic planner slices them.

They are readily recognizable, which makes them far easier to reach, whether the public is French bibliophiles or high school science students or donors looking to make a difference in the instances of pediatric HIV in Ghana.

Publics are the fin, the scales, the tail, or maybe just the top half of the fish, and not the purée.

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