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Public Health Rep. 1990 May-Jun;105(3):232-8.

Is there a hard-to-reach audience?

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  • 1Department of Speech Communication, University of Maryland, College Park 20742-1221.


The "hard-to-reach" label has been applied to many different audiences. Persons who have a low socioeconomic status (SES), members of ethnic minorities, and persons who have a low level of literacy often are tagged as "hard-to-reach." The authors identify reasons why these groups have been labelled "hard-to-reach," discuss preconceptions associated with the "hard-to-reach" label, propose alternative conceptualizations of these audiences, and present implications of such conceptualizations for health communication campaigns. Pejorative labels and preconceptions about various groups may lead to depicting these audiences as powerless, apathetic, and isolated. The authors discuss alternative conceptualizations, which highlight the strengths of different audience segments and encourage innovative approaches to the communication process. These alternative conceptualizations emphasize interactive communication, a view of society in which individuals are seen as members of equivalent--albeit different--cultures, and a shift of responsibility for health problems from individuals to social systems. Recommendations for incorporating these alternative concepts into health campaigns include formative research techniques that create a dialogue among participants, more sophisticated segmentation techniques to capture audience diversity, and new roles for mass media that are more interactive and responsive to individual needs.

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