by Magda Goemans, CFICE Evaluation and Analysis Research Assistant

Scrabble tiles in the words "Audience", "Relevant", "Target" and "content".As the Evaluation and Analysis Working Group continues to consider lessons learned from Phase I hub demonstration projects, we are assembling recommendations for effective community-campus engagement (CCE) that have come out of these experiences. In thinking about how best to communicate these recommendations to our partners, we have learned how important it is to consider the target audiences of our messages.

What’s a target audience?

A target audience is the group of people you hope to influence with your message. In our case within CFICE, we are communicating with various partners that support (or may in the future) successful CCE projects, including governments, funders, post-secondary institutions, faculty, students, and community-based organizations. Each partner comes with their own specific interests in and concerns about being involved in community-campus partnerships.

Why do target audiences matter?

In general, if a message doesn’t connect with the intended target audience, they won’t pay attention. An effective message uses language that the target audience can easily understand. It leaves a positive impression, does not offend, and appeals to the unique experiences, values and preferences of each audience. It is also delivered in ways that are easily available and digestible, and that readily provoke audience interest.

A blue, red, and yellow target with multiple holes in it.

Specify a target audience to achieve your messaging goals.

What we learned from our target audience exercises?

The lesson about targeting specific audiences was really brought home to us as we worked on developing policy briefs with recommendations for each of CFICE’s separate CCE audiences (above). Our draft documents incorporated an informal tone to speak directly to each group about why they should care about our recommendations. In general, we tried to communicate how our recommendations could address each group’s concerns and priorities within their own CCE projects. When we asked community and academic partners to review the drafts during our June CFICE Program Committee meeting we received plenty of feedback, and it became clear that we had missed the mark in terms of really reaching the target audiences with our messages.

Two animated people speaking and listening at the end of tin cans connected by string.In the case of the document directed at faculty for instance, we discovered that we had originally used language that was too simple and informal for this audience. We also failed to fully consider differences within this group — for example, the needs of faculty who are new to CCE would be very different from those experienced in CCE work. Partners suggested that we deliver these messages using a more critical tone, and that we consider delivering the messages using methods faculty often turn to for information (e.g. sharing experiences between colleagues, reading academic publications, and attending conferences). As a result, we are now considering opportunities to communicate CCE recommendations to faculty through other forms such as academic panel presentations, webinars, and published research.

As we continue to refine the messages and recommendations we hope to communicate to each group involved in CCE efforts, I am aware that keeping the needs of target audiences in mind isn’t always as easy as I think it will be. Overall, I have realized that effective approaches to communication involve reaching people where they are at, and capture audience attention by showing that I understand their points of view.

Where can you find more information?

Here are a few web sources I found that provide some more ideas about how to effectively communicate to a target audience:

Community Tool Box. Promoting Awareness and Interest Through Communication:

Communication Matters. Audiences: