Communications Commandment #1: Know Your Audience

Targeted messageThere is a common thread that led to success when writing a cover letter, marketing message and media pitch: know your audience!

I recently interviewed Heidi Scott Giusto on the FIR on Higher Education podcast to discuss a topic that I am not an expert in: communications during the career search. It was interesting for me to hear Heidi discuss how many make the mistake of not communicating knowledge of their audience in their career documents (i.e CV / cover letter). This is probably the number one mistake we make as well in media pitches to journalists and in our institutional marketing messages.

I have hired various freelancers / consultants as part of my networked and flexible approach to support my clients. The individuals who demonstrate that they understand my business context and can support me in solving a particular problem are the ones who I am likely to call back. I tend to ignore the individuals who simply just send me a long list of all their individual accomplishments.

“A cover letter is not about you!” said Heidi on my podcast. “It is a letter about why you are a good fit for their needs. So you need to present yourself as the solution to their problems and use your accomplishments in support of that point.”

Of course it is difficult to understand the pain points of a potential employer without doing your homework. Heidi notes: “Do research. Understand the needs of the employer and then craft your documents to represent that and align with those needs.”

The same principle applies from a media relations perspective. From my years of doing media relations and nurturing relationships with journalists, I have heard countless complaints about how PR professionals are too often sending untargeted pitches that are off topic. Our pitches need to be approached from the point of view of journalists’ readers. We need to essentially reverse engineer our pitch from the perspective of the publication’s audience. The only way to do this is to truly know the publication and the type of content that the journalist writes.

In our strategic communications collateral, we all too often scream and shout about how great “we” are, instead of demonstrating how our value proposition(s) solve particular problems for our audience. We all too often make the mistake of focusing on our perspective and not knowing what the audience really needs. This is why as part of my strategic communications reviews that I provide clients, I start with researching the needs of the audience and how it relates to the brand.

The underlying issue of failing to communicate knowledge of an audience’s needs is not doing the necessary research and then consequently not connecting the dots. In our digital communications age, information is quite accessible, but it certainly requires more time and energy and a different approach than blasting a press release to thousands of journalists, copying and pasting the same cover letter in response to numerous online job listings and repeating canned institutional collateral.

If you are interested in learning more about cover letter writing, then you might be interested in Heidi’s workshop on this topic that is taking place on Wednesday, May 18th in Morrisville, North Carolina. More information is at the following link. Note that I don’t receive any affiliate commission. I like to communicate the services of talented small business owners who address important issues for academics and thought leaders.