The most important lesson

Back when I was a communication graduate student at Purdue, a friend asked me at a party:

So, what is the most important thing you know about communication?

I thought for a second (or two!) then I answered:

Know your audience.

Many years later, I still believe this is the most important lesson you can learn (and practice!) in communication – and of course, the related profession of public relations.

That’s why I’m happy to see posts such as this one by Todd Defren about Shift’s PR process, which starts with a lot of listening.

Carrie Woodward from Brains on Fire visited our class yesterday to talk about the Fiskateers community. It became apparent how much time and effort they put into getting to know their audience, and how they couldn’t have succeeded without extensive research and listening.

Yet, I see so many PR/marketing efforts that seem to be shots in the dark. Let’s just do this. Why? How? Oh, the details don’t matter. Let’s be on Facebook. Let’s be on Twitter.

I was trying to get the point across to my students, that you need to understand your audience, where they are, what they care about, what they talk about, and how… and I used this example:

Imagine you’re all sitting here in this classroom, waiting for PR class to start, but I walk in a random hall down the hallway and start lecturing there.

They laughed at the absurdity of the idea, yet how many companies do exactly that?

I hope my students will remember this lesson, and I hope they’ll be able to get it across to their bosses.

So there, that’s my most important lesson. What’s the most important thing you know about communication and PR?

One thought on “The most important lesson”

  1. Wow. I find this to be very insightful! Although we learned the whole “know your audience” in public speaking, it still rings true. I like your quote about walking down the hallway teaching PR to a different class. I never really thought of it that way, and it really opened my eyes. Though “know your audience” may be a simple statement, it is loaded with meaning and importance. Thank you for sharing that!

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