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What is a “public” ?

You hear people say “the public,” a movie star says “my public.”

When you look in the dictionary, you will find “public” means an organized or general group of people.

There is an exact definition of the word “public” that you will not find in the dictionary but it’s the one used in the area of public relations.

“Public” doesn’t mean the mob, a large crowd of people, or the masses. “Public” means “a type of audience.” (An audience is the people who receive one’s message, communication, promotion, etc.)

To professional PRs people are divided up into separate publics.

Possibly the people who took part in the early beginning of PR should have used the word “audiences.” But they didn’t. They used the word “publics” to mean different types of audiences for their communications.

So you won’t find this word in dictionaries. But you must understand the word “public” and use it. Otherwise, you’ll make many mistakes.

About 99 percent of the errors in public relations activities come about because they are communicating to the wrong public. Speaking to the wrong public is the largest reason for PR failures. That’s an important piece of information to keep in mind when you are using public relations.

Imagine what would happen if a company selling expensive cars sent all their promotion to school children. They wouldn’t sell many cars!

So what is a “public” ?

In public relations always use “public” along with another word. You don’t use the word “public” by itself. In other words, a public relations professional never says THE public.

There is the “community public,” meaning people in the town not grouped into any other special public.

There’s the “teenage public,” meaning the people who are over twelve and under twenty years old.

There’s the “doctor public,” meaning the Medical Doctors you are trying to reach.

There are hundreds of different types of publics.

Some people may have a hobby or profession or something else in common that makes them a “type of public.” For example, people who play golf, people who have pet dogs, race car drivers and people who sell jewelry are all different types of public.

When you use public relations, you need to work out the different groups of people that you want to reach, because each type of public will be interested in different things. You will need to know what they are interested in so that your promotion is worked out especially for that specific public.

This point about publics is very important.

In the public relations world there aren’t “kids”—there is a “child public.” There aren’t teenagers—there’s a “teenage public.” There aren’t elderly people—there’s an “elderly public.”

When you use public relations you must not think in huge masses when looking at the people in your area. You must think in types of groups within the masses.

A public relations person must keep his audience in mind. When he writes a news story, he writes it for the audience that will be reading it.

To do this, you first have to know the opinions or reality of that public or audience. You find that out by doing a survey.


A survey is a collection of facts, figures or opinions that you gather from a small number of people within a group.

This information will give you an idea of what the entire group might think or feel. In other words, you do not have to survey every person within a group to get an idea of what the group may think about something as long as you survey some of them.

For example, there is a group of three thousand teachers in an area and you want to find out what they want from the people in charge of schools. By surveying any two hundred of those teachers, you can get a good idea of the views of the three thousand teachers on that particular question. It is not necessary to ask all of the teachers.

Using public relations, you survey a different type of special public. Then you present your material so that it influences that particular public.

You don’t offer stories about wheelchairs to the teenage public or Mickey Mouse prizes to the elderly public.

All things being offered to a public should be designed to reach a special public.

When you mix up the different publics, you fail.

When you get it right and survey an exact public, you succeed.

All expert public relations is aimed at a specific, carefully surveyed, special audience called a “______ public.”

When you know that, you can understand the subject of public relations.

When you can use it expertly, you are a professional in the field of public relations.

When using PR, you first have to figure out your exact publics. There may be several types of public, each one clearly separate and different.

Then you have to survey and look over the reactions of each different type of public.

You then plan and work out your communication and what you have to offer for each different public.

You send the right message to the right public in each case. There may be a dozen different messages if there are a dozen different publics. Each message is right for that public.

When using public relations you are after a result—someone calling in, a reply to your letter or a response to your promotion.

The right message in the right form to the right public will get the result.

A wrong message to the wrong public simply costs lots of money and gets no result.

Knowing the right public, you can then survey them and communicate to them with reality.

If you want to obtain results, know who your publics are.

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