Cases in Places

A blog on communications and advocacy how-to around the world.

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Public Information, Education, Engagement or Outreach?

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What is in a name?   Some terms express communication goals better. 

Public Information—The public understands the issue, but a piece of the puzzle is missing and needs to be communicated.  This usually happens when an established program has a small, but critical change that needs to be shared such as deadline or eligibility expansion and paperwork changes.

Public Education—Campaigns involve imparting knowledge to the audience to create a broader understanding of an issue or problem.  Health, financial and legal issues usually require education efforts because these topics are not taught at school or in the home.

Public Relations— A general term to describe advancing an organization’s public profile through a variety of means such as advertising, media, events and sponsorship.  Mobile phone companies do public relations in many countries through advertising and sponsoring events.

Behavior Change—Shifts individual or community habits, choices or traditional practices to a desired outcome.  Change campaigns are most often used in health, violence or legal issues and require significant research and resources.  HIV prevention, water treatment, smoking cessation, and anti-littering are all campaigns that are done throughout the world to change behaviors.

Public Engagement— Engagement is a fancy word for feedback on issues or problems from ordinary citizens.  It can also be described as public consultation, public input, public dialogue or public validation.   It often involves town-hall meetings, round-tables or Jirgas.

Public Outreach—Communicate to specific audiences or beneficiaries for a specific purpose.  Outreach targets specific demographic groups based on education, geography, age, etc. This is primarily a one-way conversation and focuses on areas, locations and events where target audiences gravitate.

Public Diplomacy—This is a nice way of saying public relations in another country to influence their citizens. Diplomacy officers often handle speaking engagements, host events or run centers like the British Council.

Marketing—This business term is described as communicating with the buying public to sell products or services. Therefore, it is not a term that is commonly used in non-profit or government circles.  It tends to be very data-driven in developed countries, and more of an advertising function in the developing world.  Many people like to add “marketing” to improve job titles or work, such as in global marketing, internet marketing and social marketing.

Social Marketing—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can promote charities, organizations, advocacy or services. How citizens use and access each of these platforms is important. Access to electricity, phone technology, and telecom facilities determine what can be seen or loaded.

Internal Communications—Provides information within an inside group such as workplaces or coalitions that is also called corporate, inter-governmental or organizational communications.   It used to be done through bulletin boards and meetings, but is now done through internal email lists or a portal.   It has been found that a trusted manager or leader explaining a situation has the strongest impact among employees or members.

Employee Engagement—A more active and innovative internal communications and training program that builds employee’s professional growth and motivation for the company’s mission.  Engagement programs empower staff to represent the firm as Brand or Employee Ambassadors to their personal and professional networks.

Strategic Communications—A long-term communications effort that has a strategy that is evaluated its impact and results.  Strategic communications include many of the tools listed above.