Different Publics, Different Messages


The Multiple-Message Model is More Efficient Because it is More Effective.

Business communication was easier in the old days. Companies authored one message for everyone and channeled it through the newspaper in an ad or a press release. Results oriented communicators today know that messages have to be sculpted for different audiences and sent through various targeted media.

Quarries interact with very different publics. Consider the differences between employees, customers, shareholders and community members.

  • Employees are easy to reach. They can be assembled in a large hall, called into meetings with their managers, or contacted through email. Their main concerns might include job security, profit sharing or safety.
  • Customers are probably best contacted through visits or calls from sales representatives. They are concerned with cost, quality and timeliness.
  • Shareholders receive mailings like quarterly and annual reports and may attend a yearly shareholder’s meeting. They want to know about profits and dividends and are curious about plans for the future.
  • Community members are hardest to reach. Unless there is a problem that affects them, they do not want to be contacted. They are difficult to reach because they are mostly anonymous. They used to be accessible through newspaper ads and stories, but now the general public accesses news through a variety of online, cable, broadcast and print media.

For example, if a quarry in or near a town is planning an expansion, a timeline for developing and delivering messages would be useful. Which public should be notified first? Given that most communities resist quarry expansion, it would be wise to involve them before making any decisions.

Ideally, the leadership team at the quarry is already integrated with citizens and local business people through service organizations and not-for-profit boards. They can share with their groups that the quarry is considering an expansion and ask for feedback before taking any other action. The community will want assurances about noise and safety. If plans are adjusted and this discussion is handled well, community leaders will convey the company’s intentions to others in a nonthreatening context.

The employee public will also benefit from a preliminary discussion about expansion plans. This can be generated in meetings at the workgroup level. Unique employee concerns can be addressed this way, and the organization can collect valuable suggestions and feedback from those with a ground-level understanding of plan operations.

Eventually a formal announcement can be made to all four public categories at the same time. Each group will require different information and channels. The community can get the announcement through a local newspaper, a municipal website, and a spokesperson sent to community meetings and scheduled for broadcast interviews.

The official employee announcement can come through the employee newspaper, an email or a monthly corporate communication meeting. If the company is publically owned, the legal staff might need to manage sending the message to shareholders to insure compliance with Securities and Exchange Commission rules. Customers can be reached through a campaign using sales personnel and marketing.

Illustrating the Point

This rough example illustrates the point that one event probably requires developing several messages for separate publics. It might seem more efficient or more honest to deliver one message to all publics at one time, but it isn’t.

The multiple-message model is more efficient because it is more effective. The one message model saves time at the start, but it can create exponentially more work down the road when different publics react against a message that didn’t address their concerns.

Targeting messages to different publics is best used to make the company’s point more clear not less clear. Professional communicators are only useful as long as they are trusted.

Sending contradictory messages to different publics will ultimately expose an untrustworthy spokesperson and a deceptive and threatening organization. Messages have to focus on the interests of a specific group; they need to pass through the channel the group is most likely to access, and they have to be honest.


Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..