Local matters: knowing your audience

Just because an issue might seem local, that doesn't mean a national audience won't significantly affect results.

There is no arguing the importance of strategic local communications. If done correctly, it has the ability to reach a target audience in an authentic and meaningful way that yields results. As someone who works with clients both at the national and local level, I know firsthand the power of local communications. Typically, it is the defining aspect of a winning or losing communications effort. That said, sometimes there is a compelling opportunity to take local issues and use national attention to generate results.

Just because an issue might seem local, that doesn't mean a national audience won't significantly affect results. For example, a recent effort that we spearheaded focused on an issue that seemed strictly local. A local air-quality regulator was trying to remove bonfire rings from Southern California beaches. If the regulation stood, it would've resulted in millions in lost revenue for local beach communities.

On the surface, it seemed easy to pigeonhole the issue as a local and highly technical issue, which simply required the participation of local stakeholders. While the local perspective was critical, there was a larger national narrative that applied the ultimate pressure and helped our client avoid the rule change. Recognizing that the ultimate target audience was a handful of regulators who would have a strong reaction to national exposure, we investigated how to make this local debate a national issue.

In this case, it was all about the message frame. Rather than making this a story about science and regulations, it needed to be about an unfair attack on the storied California beach lifestyle — something that a national audience could identify with and care about. This approach attracted significant national interest, including the front page of The New York Times and CBS This Morning.

Guess what? The pressure worked.

This is just one example of how we should be thinking as strategic communicators. It's all about knowing your audience and making your case across the most relevant communication channels. If you need to affect behavior or drive specific market attention, focus on the local. If your audience is focused on a specific industry, focus on targeted trade publications. If your audience wants to make an issue strictly local, focus on making it broader.

Winning campaigns are all about asking the right questions up-front. While there are endless questions that can be asked in the planning phase, there are three that truly matter:

1. Who is your audience?

2. What moves them?

3. What messages make it relevant?

It seems simple, but campaigns are often won and lost by how we address these three questions. What we do can be challenging, but it all comes down to thoughtful planning, creativity, and tireless execution of strategy.

Sean Rossall is VP of media relations and crisis communications at Cerrell Associates.  

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