Connecting with Publics and The Public



In communication and public relations, "publics" is defined as groups of individual people, and "the public" is defined as the totality of such groupings. In other words, publics are individual groups and the public is everyone.


Elected officials often communicate with publics, whether in meetings, staff emails, or company tours, to name a few. These individual interactions are important because publics make up a great deal of the entire constituency, or public, in given a district or state. 

Typical publics represented in a district or state include:

Companies/Employers - Includes large companies such as Boeing or Toyota employing thousands and a sandwich shops employing 4-5


Trade Associations - Trade associations may not be physically established in the state or district, but they represent people and companies there


Unions - Unions represent members who work at mostly large companies or for government agencies in the state or district


Government agencies (local, state, and federal) - Government agencies are sometimes the biggest employers in a district or state 


Non-profit organizations - Non-profits are affiliated with companies, sponsored by employers, staffed by constituents, and often closely aligned with communities in the district or state. They can also be large employers


Schools and Universities - Universities are also large employers in many districts and states. They also include some employees represented by unions. They are economic engines that often include a lot of affiliate employment (vendors and suppliers; restaurants and bars, etc.)


Citizen/Community groups - Citizen or community groups are often affiliated with non-profits (United Way, Planned Parenthood) and can be national in scope, but they can also be small and specific (Catholic Community Services, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust), all the way down to just a few blocks in scope. Citizen and community groups are often the closest to constituents and the public

Messaging Techniques


Elected officials tend to create individual messages for each public. An employer may care about some non-profits but not others. Unions care about issues that affect their membership but not other topics. Government agencies are directly affected by Congressional actions but may not find issues that affect trade associations to be important or relevant. This is why members of Congress reach out to so many different people and publics; they want to be seen as invested in every aspect of their district or state.


Balancing general constituent communication with focused communication targeting individual publics is challenging. The best way is to have in-person meetings with the publics, whether in the office or at an event sponsored by the group. Examples include touring a production facility, speaking at a meeting or conference, and meeting with group leaders to discuss their priorities. Connecting with publics is an essential function of being an elected official, and developing working relationships with publics can help establish the member as a resource and help create positive impressions.


These meetings would be in addition to general constituent outreach, which would include town hall meetings, newsletters, constituent mail, field office hours in small towns, virtual meetings, public events in the state/district, and interviews with news media.

© 2019 Ted Dahlstrom - Gonzaga University COML Class of 2019

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