Three Ways to Effectively Communicate to Underserved Communities

Whether you’re relaying information about a new public health policy, publicizing recently enacted legislation or introducing a brand to a community, effectively reaching traditionally underserved communities can be a unique challenge.

While conveying authenticity and instilling trust is key to any effective communications plan, all communities – regardless of socioeconomic status – are seeing their media landscapes change dramatically.

As someone who has spent the past 10 years communicating with underserved communities on behalf of national non-profits, healthcare facilities and educational institutions, I’ve learned that a one-size-fits-all approach to media outreach and community engagement is entirely ineffective and that success is found when you keep a couple of tips in mind.

Earn trust through partnerships

Trust is paramount to the success of any communication campaign. Trust makes a message authentic and believable; it encourages action and – most importantly – it is only earned over time. That said, it’s crucial to recognize that deeply-rooted factors are at play outside of your control – including decades of systematic disparities – which make earning the trust of underserved populations a challenge. 

How does a brand earn such trust? It’s a two-step process. First, take the time to talk to residents and community leaders to truly understand the needs of the population. Then, once understood, authenticate your message – through partnerships with local non-profits and alliances with key community leaders – to speak to those specific needs. These trusted individuals – oftentimes referred to as “Centers of Influence” – will serve as gatekeepers to the community, creating a halo effect of hard to earn authenticity and awareness.  

Never underestimate the power of radio

While studies show a widespread decline in the reach of traditional media sources such as newspapers and broadcast television, radio is still among the most popular and effective mediums to reach minority audiences. In fact, according to a Nielsen study cited in a Forbes.com article, radio reaches 93 percent of African-Americans and 98 percent of Hispanic Americans on a weekly basis. 

Knowing this, it is crucial to employ a mix of both paid and earned marketing techniques to engage your audience. From traditional paid radio spots, to creative sponsorship deals such as a reoccurring weekly segment. The beauty of targeting radio stations as part of your paid ad campaign is that the investment is incredibly scalable and effective.

On the earned media front, approach radio stations with a simple mentality – is the information I’m providing valuable to their audience? Pitch phone or in-studio interviews; offer the opportunity to go live from your location; and share news in absorbable 10-15 second nuggets.

Finally, use the structure of radio networks to your advantage. Recognizing the existence of local conglomerate radio groups like Entercom, Cumulus and Townsquare Media – coordinate “round robin” style interviews, where you bring one spokesperson onsite and spend several hours bouncing between stations conducting interviews.

Smartphones are a critical part of the equation

According to the Pew Research Center, an increasing number of people in underserved communities are relying on their smartphones as their primary source for accessing the news, versus turning on the television or reading the newspaper.

What’s more, for many individuals in these communities, their smartphone is their only source of internet connectivity. This includes those with low household incomes (13 percent of Americans with a household income under $30,000, compared to 1 percent of those earning more than $75,000) and minorities (12 percent of blacks and 13 percent of Hispanics, compared to 4 percent of whites).

As for social media, underserved communities are accessing social platforms at rapidly increasing rates. A recent study showed a higher percentage of blacks and Hispanics use Facebook (70 percent and 73 percent, respectively) and Instagram (43 percent and 38 percent, respectively) than whites.

What does this mean for brands? Not only must companies ensure their brand’s website is properly optimized for mobile viewing, but the development of a comprehensive social media campaign should be a priority versus a short addendum to an existing plan. 

In the end, there is no cookie cutter approach to conveying a story to all communities. It is crucial to understand the community’s existing nuances, centers of influence and preferred ways they are receiving and spreading relevant news.

Most importantly, though, always remember that a direct correlation exists between the amount of time, energy and resources you are investing in a community and the perceived authenticity of your brand.

Christine Rashman is an Account Supervisor at Pierpont Communication with more than 10 years of experience providing innovative public relations strategies and executions for a variety of local and national clients across the healthcare, financial services, technology and CPG industries. Based in Austin, Texas, Christine has worked for both large and boutique public relations firms in New York.