Guide to COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS for Government Communicators (Part 2)


I am back after a few very busy weeks and I thought I would continue with my series on Common Sense Communications.

As I mentioned last blog, for many years I have counselled colleagues and clients in the Public Sector to adopt a marketing approach to their communications. The response I usually receive is, we are not doing marketing but communications. Or government is not in the marketing business, that’s the domain of the private sector , we are in the communications business. So I have developed a new field and am calling it Common Sense Communications.

From now on when  I work with someone who simply cannot buy into the marketing concept I will not use the word  marketing. What I will call what I do now is  COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS, it may not be sexy but perhaps it will open the door to better communications in government.

Here are a few more tips from the field of common sense communications.

Before you decide to communicate decide what exactly it is that you are trying to communicate . Sounds simple but this is rarely done. What do you want the recipient to do once they get your communications? In my experience most folks who work in the communications field want to educate and inform but surely you want the target audience  to take some action after they receive your message. Therefore ask your self what do I want the recipient to do once they get our government communications . If the answer is to drive them to your web site then you need to be more specific, i.e. what do I want this person to do after they have gone to my site. If you have a clear idea on what you want to achieve with your communications and what  you want the target group to do  once they receive your communications, you are more likely to succeed in your communications initiative.

Common sense communicators usually develop a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). This involves  developing a summary of internal strengths and weaknesses of the organization managing the project and the external opportunities and threats that could affect the communications initiative.

Internal strengths and weaknesses are things like human and financial resources, expertise, management support and internal politics.

External opportunities or threats include cultural norms, demographics, economic situation, political or legal issues and the activities of external organizations.

The next step is decide on what are you going to do to address the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

What tends to happen is a SWOT is written and never referred to again in the plan. What Common Sense Communicators do is address the SWOT and decide what they are going to do to address the SWOT :

    1. pursue opportunities that are a good fit with the organization’s strengths 
    2. overcome weaknesses to pursue opportunities
    3. identify ways that the organization can use its strengths to reduce its vulnerability to external threats
    4. establish a defensive plan to prevent the organization’s weaknesses from making it highly susceptible to external threats.

Segmentation as I mentioned in my last blog is crucial to good common sense communications. Here are 6 things to remember when developing a segmentation plan*:

Segment Size- How many people in the segment? Is it big enough to be worthwhile?

How easy is it to identify and reach the segment? –What are the most efficient marketing communications tactics/channels that can be used to get the message across?

General Responsiveness- How ready, willing and able is the segment to take action… low hanging fruit

Responsiveness to marketing mix- Which segments are more likely to respond to a campaign ‘best’? What are the relative campaign costs for the different segments to achieve the desired results?

Resource Capabilities- Do you have experience or understanding of some segments more than others and therefore more likely to have success with those segments?

Equity and Social Justice- Where do you sit with certain disadvantaged groups, i.e. aboriginal groups, socio-economic groups, low literacy groups etc.

Criteria can be grouped around the following 3 themes: most ready for ‘action’; Easiest to reach and respond; Best ‘strategic fit’ with the organization

*Dr Gary Noble at the Centre for Social Marketing Research at the University of Wollongong in Australia

Or consider using TARPARE developed by Rob Donovan in Australia

TARPARE (Donovan, 1999) is a model that can help to analyze market segments with a view to choosing target audiences where the greatest impact is likely to occur. TARPARE is an acronym for the assessment criteria to consider when choosing a target audience.


To aid in the prioritization process, it is sometimes useful to develop a scoring grid and rate each criterion individually on a scale of 1-10. The higher end of the scale should always represent the best possible score (i.e. if very few resources are required to reach a segment then the score should be 9 or 10, not 0 or 1).


Finally sometimes common sense is not used in communications. Here are the top nine comments made by NBC sports commentators during the Summer Olympics that they would like to take back:

1. Weightlifting commentator: This is Gregoriava from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning during her warm up and it was amazing.

2. Dressage commentator: This is really a lovely horse and I speak from personal experience since I once mounted her mother.

3. Paul Hamm, Gymnast: I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father.

4. Boxing Analyst: Sure there have been injuries, and even some deaths in boxing, but none of them really that serious.

5. Softball announcer: If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again.

6. Basketball analyst: He dribbles a lot and the opposition doesn’t like it. In fact you can see it all over their faces.

7. At the rowing medal ceremony: Ah, isn’t that nice, the wife of the IOC president is hugging the cox of the British crew.

8. Soccer commentator: Julian Dicks is everywhere. It’s like they’ve got eleven Dicks on the field.

9. Tennis commentator: One of the reasons Andy is playing so well is that, before the final round, his wife takes out his balls and kisses them… Oh my God, what have I just said?

Happy marketing



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