Boiling Down Communication to Two Questions: ‘Who is the Audience? What is the Message?’

[Editor’s Note: Peter Kadushin, who joined D.C.-based Trident DMG as a VP this summer, has an enviable résumé. Prior to Trident, he led Amazon’s global PR and issues management communication. Before that, he was communication chief for former Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, senior advisor and communication director for Detroit mayor Mike Duggan and deputy communication director for Bill de Blasio, the former New York City mayor. He also served as deputy press secretary at the UFT. Kadushin began his career a reporter at the the New York Post and the New York Daily News. We asked Kadushin about his communication philosophy, among other topics. His remarks were lightly edited.]

PRNEWS: Did you bring best practices from journalism to your PR career?

Peter Kadushin, VP, Trident DMG

Peter Kadushin: I worked with some great reporters, both working at the New York Post and the Daily News. I found the reporter who asked the most basic question or questions often got the best story.

And that pertains to complicated stories, in fact, especially to complicated stories. Because if you can think of the most basic question and get a clear, basic answer, then you’re going to tell an effective, accessible and clear story.

PRNEWS: How has that helped you in PR?

Kadushin: I try to remember that and always hold on to it in the messaging I deliver. I’m thinking about this when I speak with reporters, or whoever my principal or client is.

PRNEWS: And this is part of your communication philosophy?

Kadushin: Yes. I think all communication effectively comes down to who, or what, is your audience and what’s your message.

It often takes institutions or elected officials a very long time to get clarity on those two questions. Even though ostensibly, they’re simple ones: What are you trying to say? And who do you want to listen?

From there you think, ‘How do you say that message on TikTok? How do you say it to The Washington Post?

It’s a very unusual communication issue that can’t be reduced to those two things. What’s your audience and what’s your message? Everything else comes from there.

PRNEWS: Why is it so difficult to get clarity on those 2 seemingly simple questions?

Kadushin: Consistency and repetition are key. If you are trying to communicate a message to an audience you need to say it and say it again. Then say it again and repeat.

It can take an eternity to communicate a message with permanence. For a message to resonate with any kind of permanence, it takes constant repetition and time.

The wide array of audiences can make it difficult to maintain consistent messaging. From a mayor’s perspective, there are communities across a city, the corporate community, labor, etc. From a company’s perspective–take Amazon–there are customers around the world, legislators in those respective countries, employees, etc. Messaging to those various stakeholders in a nuanced yet consistent way can be difficult.

PRNEWS: Tell us about speed in the various roles you’ve had in PR: in-house at Amazon, political communication in three mayors’ offices and now at Trident, an agency.

Kadushin: First, ultimately, I think you’re dealing with speed across all three…they necessitate a similar degree of speed.

Where I see the most difference is that in government the elected official is your primary principal.

You’re covering a whole range of topics, whether it’s tech or affordable housing, or education or transit. And you need speed to respond to beat reporters for every single one of those issues.

In a firm, you may work in the same range of industries. You may work in fin tech and affordable housing. And you may have transportation clients and education clients. And you can still cover the broad range of issues that you would cover in government, particularly if you’re at a smaller firm. But it is more diffuse, across a number of clients instead of one elected official.

And then with in-house, you have one client. In my case, Amazon. And there are different topic areas that you work on, but you don’t cover the same amount of ground as working in government or at an agency.

Amazon deals with affordable housing. But the [PR pro] covering affordable housing is not going to be dealing with rapid response on counterfeit items or dealing with Prime Day. So, you’re not covering the same breadth of issues [in-house].

But all three areas require the same instincts and training. The instincts to respond in a rapid way. Because if you’re at an agency and a client has a crisis, there’s a beat reporter in that industry and they expect the same level of speed as if you were working in government.

And the same at Amazon. There are beat reporters who expect same degree of respect and timeliness of your response.

PRNEWS: What skills do you suggest a young communicator possess?

Kadushin: There are a few things. One, reading newspapers so you can understand exactly what it is that makes something news. That comes through reading.

And I mean read the whole newspaper. Start with the sports section. Know the reason people are picking up the paper in the morning or going online to read. And for the bulk of people, that’s often going to be the sports section.

Reading also helps with the second skill, which is writing. You’re not going to become a good writer if you’re not constantly reading newspapers, reading online and reading different websites.

That helps build the muscle for how to write concisely and write messaging effectively. Because you're trying to learn and build the muscle to ask the basic questions.

PRNEWS: Anything else?

Kadushin: Curiosity and an ability to talk to people. You can’t effectively message if you don’t understand people at a basic human level.

You stretch yourself, those uncomfortable muscles and talk to people.

PRNEWS: People say the hardest thing for communicators now is communicating on social issues, like Roe v Wade or issues within ESG. How do you advise people on that?

Kadushin: This all comes down to, again, what’s your audience and what’s your message? Because when you communicate on those issues you’re communicating internally and externally.

So, figure out what is your institution’s voice. And then, how do you get your position on this out in the existing voice of your institution?

Now, you don’t have to [comment on every social issue]. But, if you decide to, how do you then talk about this issue in your institution’s existing voice and culture?

Most importantly [your message] needs to align to a company or a brand’s existing culture and existing voice. And that comes down to the audience and the message. And it’s key to understanding those two things before you jump into what are you going to say about any given issue.

Once you have a clear definition of those two things, you can then start defining and thinking about how you want to say about complicated issues.

PRN: What makes a PR person a good strategist?

Kadushin: I feel pretty strongly that if communicators aren't being strategic, they aren't doing their job. All good communicators are strategic and any effective spokesperson or any effective comms director, if they're doing a good job, they're a strategic adviser. They're already incredibly strategic about every move they make.

PRNEWS: So, thinking a few steps ahead?

Kadushin: Absolutely. Playing chess and thinking about the next moves. Thinking about where media cycles are going and what everybody else is going to do next. And thinking about how to position their principal and their client in the right place.