Going beyond demographics

To better understand their audiences, communicators need to establish an intersectional practice of PR.


Demographics have long been the primary types of categories used to measure and understand people. Demographic categories can still tell us a lot about our social structure, and continue to be useful for macro-level understandings of people and societies. However, as communications professionals, our goals are typically less broad than those of any national census.

Demographics are based on identities that are assigned by our societal structures. For example, our notions of race and gender are social constructs assigned at birth that we may or may not ultimately identify with. Historically, these demographic identities have been thought to be closely linked with the habits, norms and preferences of people. Demographics like race and gender have been huge determinants of several other factors in our lives, such as whether or not we will earn a certain type of degree, purchase a home or vote a certain way. As these demographic understandings of people were increasingly relied upon, more and more cultural assumptions (also known as stereotypes) were born.

As communicators, when we rely on these broad categories of demographics to reach our publics we contribute to these cultural assumptions which have negative consequences both on a societal level and to our own campaigns. In essence, cultural assumptions are alienating and offensive. Demographics can be used more progressively by thinking about them as overlapping and intersecting identities rather than as separated into very specific boxes.

Natalie T. J. Tindall

Natalie T. J. Tindall is an associate professor in the department of communication at Georgia State University, US. Her research focuses on diversity in organisations, specifically the public relations function, and the situational theory of publics and intersectionality. Parts of this essay appeared earlier in a February 24 2014 blog on prsay.org.

Kristen Everett

Kristen Everett has worked in several communications positions in Atlanta, Georgia. Her interests include strategic communications and the relationship between communications and identity. She currently works as a content strategist at Mindpower Inc.