Addressing Unfamiliar Audiences

Here at Elon, as with many colleges and universities, the audiences one encounters on a daily basis are pretty standard and similar. Mostly everyone is a student, living in a dorm room in a small college town, and between the ages of 18-21. Here at Elon, the vast majority are white and female. This poses a distinct problem when confronted with an audience of a drastically different demographic.

In my Strategic Campaigns course, I have spent the semester developing a marketing/PR campaign for an audience that none of us have ever dealt with before, 50-63 year old adult doctors. Our client is Duke Clinical Research Institute, a department within Duke Medical School that focuses on clinical trials and putting educational medical developments into practice for patients. As senior Strategic Comm students, all of us have done client work before, but the audience typically exists within demographics and psychographics that we can align with or relate to in some capacity. This audience – adult males with spouses, children, white lab-coats, and PhDs – posed a distinct challenge for us.

When appealing to an audience that you are not at all connected to, deep and involved research must be conducted in order to be successful. Throughout the semester, my team and I buried our heads in statistics, held interviews and surveys, sent (admittedly) naggy emails to doctors, questioned parents/family members in the field, and watched countless Youtube videos, trying valiantly to immerse ourselves in the medical world. We knew that in order to create a powerful communications plan for DCRI, we would have to first understand what they wanted – the rational and emotional factors that drive their decision making.

Overall, the rhetorical decisions we made to create this campaign resulted directly from in-depth research on our audience. Primary, secondary, qualitative, and quantitative research all had to be done before we could write one word of ad copy or create a single marketing tactic. We learned through research that doctors barely frequent social media, read very specific sections of news publications like the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, and value their work and the rare moments they get to spend with their families. We used this information to tailor or communications in ways that would truly resonate, instead of dumping a bunch of copy on Instagram and calling it a successful campaign. Understanding the intricacies of your audience and knowing what truly makes them tick is an essential part of the rhetorical process and will ultimately help you be a more effective and persuasive communicator.


For more information on the Duke Clinical Research Institute, visit them online at:



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