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Kirk Hallahan’s Five Types of Publics

Never underestimate the power of inactive publics.

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Professor Kirk Hallahan sug­gests five types of publics.

There are aware pub­lics, act­ive pub­lics, inact­ive pub­lics, aroused pub­lics, and non-publics.

Non-pub­lics lack any mean­ing­ful con­nec­tion with the issue, but inact­ive pub­lics are the most under­rated type of pub­lic as they still can become aware, act­ive, or aroused.

Here goes:

The Publics in Public Relations

Publics in Public Relations - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
The pub­lics in pub­lic relations.
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The Publics in Public Relations

Here’s how to define pub­lics in pub­lic rela­tions:

Publics = a psy­cho­graph­ic seg­ment (who) with sim­il­ar com­mu­nic­a­tion beha­viours (how) formed around a spe­cif­ic issue (why) affect­ing the organ­isa­tion (to whom). 1Silfwer, J. (2015, June 11). The Publics in Public Relations. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​u​b​l​i​c​s​-​i​n​-​p​u​b​l​i​c​-​r​e​l​a​t​i​o​ns/

Please note:

Psychographic seg­ment = sim­il­ar­it­ies in cog­nit­ive driv­ing factors such as reas­on­ing, motiv­a­tions, atti­tudes, etc.

Communication beha­viours = how the pub­lic’s opin­ion is expressed (choice of mes­sage, rhet­or­ic­al fram­ing, and medi­um type).

Specific issue = determ­ined situ­ation­ally by a spe­cif­ic social object, often high on the agenda in news media or social media.

Learn more: The Publics in Public Relations

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Kirk Hallahan: Five Types of Publics

Five Types of Publics - Kirk Hallahan - Doctor Spin
Five types of publics.
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Kirk Hallahan’s Five Types of Publics

There are plenty of inact­ive pub­lics around us in soci­ety, just “wait­ing” for extern­al situ­ations to activ­ate them, bring­ing them togeth­er in coöper­at­ive, com­mu­nic­at­ive behaviours.

However, PR tends to focus on the already activ­ated publics:

By focus­ing on act­iv­ism and its con­sequences, recent pub­lic rela­tions the­ory has largely ignored inact­ive pub­lics, that is, stake­hold­er groups that demon­strate low levels of know­ledge and involve­ment in the organ­isa­tion or its products, ser­vices, can­did­ates, or causes, but are import­ant to an organ­isa­tion.”
Source: Public Relations Review 2Hallahan, K. (2000). Inactive pub­lics: The for­got­ten pub­lics in pub­lic rela­tions. Public Relations Review, 26(4), 499 – 515. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​S​0​3​6​3​-​8​1​1​1​(​0​0​)​0​0​061 – 8

Kirk Hallahan, Professor Emeritus, Journalism and Media Communication, Colorado State University, pro­poses five types of pub­lics based on their know­ledge and involve­ment: 3Hallahan, K. (2000). Inactive pub­lics: The for­got­ten pub­lics in pub­lic rela­tions. Public Relations Review, 26(4), 499 – 515. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​S​0​3​6​3​-​8​1​1​1​(​0​0​)​0​0​061 – 8

  • Aware Publics
  • Active Publics
  • Inactive Publics
  • Aroused Publics
  • Non-Publics

Hallahan sug­gests a mod­el based on know­ledge and involvement:

As an organ­isa­tion tar­geted by act­iv­ists, what would be the best issue response? Hallahan pro­poses four prin­cip­al response strategies: 4Hallahan, K. (2009, November 19). The Dynamics of Issues Activation and Response: An Issues Processes Model. Journal of Public Relations Research. … Continue read­ing

  • Active pub­lics: Negotiation.
  • Aroused pub­lics: Intervention.
  • Aware pub­lics: Education.
  • Inactive pub­lics: Prevention.

Learn more: Kirk Hallahan’s Five Types of Publics

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Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: John Dewey and the “P” in Public Relations

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John Dewey (Wikipedia).
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John Dewey and the ‘P’ in Public Relations

The term “pub­lics” can be traced back to the work of the American psy­cho­lo­gist and philo­soph­er John Dewey (1859 – 1952). 5John Dewey. (2023, March 25). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​J​o​h​n​_​D​e​wey

In his 1927 book, “The Public and Its Problems,” Dewey con­cep­tu­al­ised pub­lics as situ­ation­al groups formed in response to shared con­cerns or issues. He pos­ited that these groups emerge when indi­vidu­als con­front a com­mon prob­lem, recog­nise its exist­ence, and take col­lect­ive action to address it. 6Dewey, J. (1927). The Public and Its Problems. Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press.

Dewey’s the­ory of the pub­lic sphere recog­nizes mul­tiple pub­lics and per­meable bor­ders between pub­lic and private, with com­mu­nic­a­tion play­ing a cru­cial role in pub­lic form­a­tion and re-form­a­tion.”
Source: Argumentation and Advocacy 7Asen, R. (2003). The Multiple Mr. Dewey: Multiple Publics and Permeable Borders in John Dewey’s Theory of the Public Sphere. Argumentation and Advocacy, 39, 174 — 188. … Continue read­ing

Dewey’s for­mu­la­tion of pub­lics marked a sig­ni­fic­ant depar­ture from the tra­di­tion­al under­stand­ing of the “mass pub­lic,” which assumed a more homo­gen­eous and pass­ive audi­ence.

By high­light­ing the situ­ation­al and dynam­ic nature of pub­lics, Dewey laid the found­a­tion for a more nuanced and adapt­ive approach to under­stand­ing the com­plex inter­ac­tions between organ­isa­tions and their vari­ous audi­ences.

  • The term pub­lics, as con­cep­tu­al­ised by Dewey, has become a corner­stone of mod­ern pub­lic rela­tions and com­mu­nic­a­tion theory.

This under­stand­ing of pub­lics as situ­ation­al and ever-chan­ging high­lighted the need for organ­isa­tions to remain agile and adapt­ive in their com­mu­nic­a­tion efforts.

By recog­nising the diverse and situ­ation­al nature of pub­lics, PR pro­fes­sion­als and com­mu­nic­at­ors can bet­ter under­stand the needs and con­cerns of their vari­ous audi­ences, allow­ing them to devel­op more effect­ive com­mu­nic­a­tion strategies. 

This recog­ni­tion of the act­ive and dynam­ic nature of pub­lics has also influ­enced broad­er aca­dem­ic and pub­lic dis­course, high­light­ing the import­ance of under­stand­ing and enga­ging with dif­fer­ent groups of people who share com­mon interests, con­cerns, or prob­lems.”
Source: Contemporary Pragmatism 8Rogers, M. (2010). Introduction: Revisiting The Public and Its Problems. Contemporary Pragmatism, 7, 1 – 7. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​6​3​/​1​8​7​5​8​185 – 90000152

Learn more: John Dewey and the ‘P’ in Public Relations

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ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Silfwer, J. (2015, June 11). The Publics in Public Relations. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​u​b​l​i​c​s​-​i​n​-​p​u​b​l​i​c​-​r​e​l​a​t​i​o​ns/
2, 3 Hallahan, K. (2000). Inactive pub­lics: The for­got­ten pub­lics in pub­lic rela­tions. Public Relations Review, 26(4), 499 – 515. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​S​0​3​6​3​-​8​1​1​1​(​0​0​)​0​0​061 – 8
4 Hallahan, K. (2009, November 19). The Dynamics of Issues Activation and Response: An Issues Processes Model. Journal of Public Relations Research. https://​www​.tand​fon​line​.com/​d​o​i​/​a​b​s​/​1​0​.​1​2​0​7​/​S​1​5​3​2​7​5​4​X​J​P​R​R​1​3​0​1_3
5 John Dewey. (2023, March 25). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​J​o​h​n​_​D​e​wey
6 Dewey, J. (1927). The Public and Its Problems. Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press.
7 Asen, R. (2003). The Multiple Mr. Dewey: Multiple Publics and Permeable Borders in John Dewey’s Theory of the Public Sphere. Argumentation and Advocacy, 39, 174 — 188. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​8​0​/​0​0​0​2​8​5​3​3​.​2​0​0​3​.​1​1​8​2​1​585
8 Rogers, M. (2010). Introduction: Revisiting The Public and Its Problems. Contemporary Pragmatism, 7, 1 – 7. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​6​3​/​1​8​7​5​8​185 – 90000152
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has

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