There’s No Such Thing as “One Size Fits All”

It’s always a privilege to work with any organization committed to improving the health, safety, and well-being of people and the communities in which they live. Each organization has its unique qualities, but there are shared common denominators—especially among organizations that have never undertaken the work of communication and marketing.

There’s one common refrain I’ve heard so often that it’s actually appeared in my dreams: “Can you help us make a brochure? It’s all we think we need. We can just give that to everyone who stops by our office.”

The short answer is, “Sure, I can help you with that. But it won’t work, and here’s why.”

If You Build It, Will They Come?

Remember the movie Field of Dreams? In it, while walking through his Iowa cornfield, our protagonist hears a voice that tells him “If you build it, they will come.” Long story short, he builds a baseball diamond on his property, and the ghosts of the 1919 Black Sox team emerge to play ball.

Now, think about your work. You can build the best programs imaginable for children, families, schools, and communities, but that doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. If no one knows about them, they’ll go unused. And if they’re not used, no positive changes will result. And if there are no positive changes, there’s certainly not much chance of sustaining—or expanding—your work.

If you build it will they come? Well, maybe not…

Today you may be looking at ways to change environmental policy in your state. Or get young children screened for behavioral health issues before they start kindergarten. Or persuade those at risk for chronic disease to change their diets. Your focus may be on the end users of your programs and services, or the audiences from whom you seek a desired behavior.

Tomorrow you may need to find a way to sustain what you’ve begun. You may need to reach out to different audiences altogether: community leaders, businesses, faith groups, schools, policymakers, government agencies, nonprofits, and more.

All of it requires you to communicate.

Successful Communication is Audience-Focused

You probably need to reach all kinds of people—your intended (or target) audiences—to succeed and sustain your work. These audiences, however, are very different from one another. Each has unique needs, beliefs, and values. They have different challenges that keep them awake at night.

Let’s say you run a domestic violence hotline. The priorities, values, and beliefs of a woman experiencing domestic violence are not necessarily the same as the emergency room doctor who is treating her injuries. You want to communicate with both of them—but they very well may not respond to the same message delivered in the same way.

In other words, there is no such thing as “one size fits all,” and our job as communicators requires us to put our assumptions aside, learn as much as we can about our varied audiences, and tailor our outreach effectively.

And let’s put that brochure in the “circular file,” shall we?

Return to Articles

Contact Jean for a conversation about your organization’s needs.