Context in marketing and public relations

Context in marketing and public relations

Have you ever thought about the role of context in communications?
I hadn’t given it much thought, but the more I think about it, the more it seems like a big deal.
I should probably clarify what I actually mean by context. Think about how your reaction to marketing or PR communications at different times or in different places.
For example, I receive copies of PR Week and Marketing magazines at both my office and home. Yet I rarely even tear off the shrink wrapping from my copies in the office, even though I always read the copies that go to my home from cover to cover.
Same magazine, same person, but the messages in one instance are much more effective at hitting their target in one place than another.
In one context (the office) I’m too busy and have too many other calls on my time to even skim read the magazines. But in another context (at home) I have more time and am more able to read the magazines in detail.
To a marketer I would still have the same demographic profile – but my response to the same advert or editorial is different because of my context.
Context is an important part of user experience development on the web- this article explains it well – but I haven’t seen much about how it can be applied to marketing and PR thinking.
Here are just a few ways you could consider the context of your target audience in your marketing or public relations:

  • Time of day and day of week
  • Where they are when they see your advert or coverage
  • What they’re doing – are they actively or passively seeing your messages
  • How they like to receive their information
  • Access to response channels – are you making it easy for them to follow up?

Many of these factors are ones that you’ll consider anyway, but can considering them more holistically as context help improve effectiveness of your marketing and public relations?
A technique I’ve used in the past for web development projects has been user personas – creating some archetypes that bring your target audience to life beyond dry statistics and demographics.
These personas can then be used as reference points in the development of websites and services to ensure that the site meets the needs of that group of users – basically does it work for a specific user persona?
Would there be value in applying this approach to developing advertising creative or writing web copy? I’m not sure, but it’d be interesting to give it a try and hear if anyone else has done the same.


I work as a fractional Chief Operating Officer (COO), consultant and advisor. I created the B3 framework® for company building and I also write a newsletter called Build for leaders who care about creating resilient and sustainable businesses.