A public may be said to exist whenever a group of people is drawn together by definite interests in certain areas and has definite opinions upon matters within those areas. There are many publics, and individuals are frequently members of several that may sometimes have conflicting interests. For example, in the case of a school bond vote, a voter might be torn between feelings as a parent and as a member of a conservative economic group opposed to higher taxes; or an elderly couple, no children now in school, might be parents of a teacher.
Public relations must be sensitive to two general types of publics: internal and external. Internal publics are the people who are already connected with an organization, and with whom the organization normally communicates in the ordinary routine of work. Typical internal publics in an industry are the employees, stockholders, suppliers, dealers, customers, and plant neighbors. For example, employees want good wages and working conditions, opportunities for advancement, and a secure retirement. Customers want a dependable supply of quality products provided at a fair price and supported by convenient services. Stakeholders want dividends, growth, and a fair return on their investments.
External publics are composed of people who are not necessarily closely connected with a particular organization. For example, members of the press, educators, government officials, or the clergy may or may not have an interest in an industry. The leaders of the industry cannot assume any automatic interest and, to some extent, must choose whether to communicate with these groups.
There is, of course, interaction between internal and external publics. Yet it cannot be assumed that good relations with insiders will ever be translated to outsiders without effort. An employee who is quite happy on the job may be much more interested in bowling than in the fact that the firm has just opened a new branch in the US city of Phoenix, Arizona. The firm must think of what interests the external public and not what interests the firm. With employees and other internal publics, there is a fair chance that all interests may coincide because all are connected with the same organization; with an external audience, the assumption should be that the chance of such accidental coincidence of interest is slight.