Applying the health and safety communications model starts with a sound working knowledge of your audience (Figure 2.1). In fact, having knowledge and insights about your audience (or audiences) is an essential aspect of preparing your messages and having the results that you seek. Imagine if you are trying to learn a new language, but to do so you are thrust onto an advanced conversational course. The language is difficult to process at that level of proficiency. Another example is reading Shakespeare’s plays. The scripts are in early modern English, very timely for when he wrote them, but now they sound funny and can be difficult to understand. Despite these challenges, you can learn a new language by knowing sentence structure, vocabulary or tenses practiced by the conversationalists. Similarly with health and safety communications, you want to make sure that your message reaches and resonates with your audience. If you are trying to connect with
those in a large urban setting with illustrations about farmland and open spaces, this may not be relevant or appropriate (unless, of course, your aim is to illustrate differences with these distinct settings). If your audience is primarily visual in style, or the cultural values and perspectives are strong in a certain direction, you will want to make sure your approaches honor these orientations. To know your audience means realizing its interests and needs. What are your audience’s needs? Think of a need as circumstances in which something is necessary or a situation that requires a course of action. You are likely not going to undertake a communications endeavor simply to do so; you have something that you want to accomplish and some difference that you want to make. Your efforts with communication center first on recognizing something that is not healthy or safe among your intended audience. Whether it is from data, experience, or your general feeling, you know that some changes or improvements are needed. You may also know that the gap or area of concern is greater in one audience when compared with another; for example, within a certain age group, males may have a greater incidence of the identified health or safety issue than females. Further, health disparities may exist among different groups of individuals, based on a range of demographic factors (e.g., age, gender, education level, socio-economic status, race/ethnicity, country of origin/immigration status, or sexual orientation/gender identity). Accordingly, attending to specific audience(s) of need as well as distinct needs among audiences is important because of numerous factors. You may believe that these gaps are due to inattention or lack of prioritization of that audience; you may further believe that this difference is unethical, or at least unwarranted. Another factor for consideration is that different audiences may have different needs; you may find that a health issue is higher in a particular audience but it is not found in another audience; thus, the need commands greater attention. For example, firstyear college students, when compared with other students, have higher needs regarding appropriate study habits, or healthy decision-making about alcohol use. Or those in certain geographic regions of the country may have been exposed to certain experiences based on the weather, topography, climate, natural resources, culture and numerous other factors; this awareness makes a difference for you as you plan for your communication efforts to resonate positively with your target audience. Related to awareness about the audience is knowledge about the issue. It is vital to be as current as possible, as knowledge continues to evolve. It is helpful to know what the science surrounding the issue reports. In other words, what is the latest research? It is also important to know the latest approaches to be used. For example, learning about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) using the latest techniques is so important that certification needs to be renewed every one to two years; in fact, in 2009, the American Heart Association started a campaign promoting Hands-Only CPR, designed to minimize brain damage while awaiting professional assistance. This change also addressed many individuals’ concerns with artificial respiration, as some people did not want to do “mouth-to-mouth” on a stranger because they did not know if they could get infected or because of their own lack of comfort using this approach. Having quality facts and current information is important for a quality communications approach. There are some issues for which the need may be fairly universal among the range of audiences; however, the message composition and channeling to reach specific audiences or subgroups will need to vary. For example, if the objective is to increase the use of automobile safety belts, the strategy would likely vary based on a whole range of factors. With soon-to-be juvenile drivers, the approach may be based on a game or
challenge opportunity. With youth just learning to drive, the emphasis may be based on legal responsibilities and linkages to a new driver’s license. With young adults, attention to perceived invulnerability or optimism bias-this is, “a crash will never happen to me”—may be warranted. It was once thought that safety belts would cause pregnant women to miscarry in the event of a car crash, so a campaign to combat misinformation may be best for this audience; this would include evidence that the primary cause of fetal death during traffic crashes is death of the mother because she was not wearing a safety belt. The approach used to engage middle age adults may focus on professional or family responsibilities and elderly adults may be encouraged to use safety belts because of increased fragility of their bodies. Some communication approaches require the involvement of multiple individuals with varying roles. Consider the issue of dental health habits of children. To achieve appropriate dental hygiene at home, the parent may receive a set of messages that includes tips for using know-feel-do strategies appropriate for the child’s age group; at the same time, the child may receive different yet consistent messages, using know-feel-do strategies appropriate for the particular age group. These messages are all designed to accomplish the same goal, but are composed and potentially channeled in different, yet complementary, ways. Central to effective health and safety communications is targeted segmentation. This might seem obvious based on the examples provided above; however, in actual practice, it is forgotten all too often. What often happens with health and safety communications is contamination by two broad misconceptions. The first misconception is “one approach fits everyone” and the second is “I know my audience.” This chapter tackles these two misconceptions while providing greater detail on understanding the audience.