• Sophia Dickinson

How to effectively engage culturally and linguistically diverse audiences

Twenty-one per cent of Australian residents, or over one in five people, speak a language other than English at home[1].



That means for many Australians, local English-language news and media is not their only source of information. There are a plethora of resources available to them in their preferred language(s), produced both locally and overseas. Effectively targeting these audiences is not only a great commercial opportunity, it’s also vital when delivering essential information to people who speak little or no English.


LEXIGO spoke to Dr Melika Yassin Sheikh-Eldin, International and Community Development Manager at AMES Australia* and Lorraine Jokovic, CEO of LOUD Communications, about how to ensure your campaigns in languages other than English hit the mark.

Understanding your audience


Dr Sheikh-Eldin and Ms Jokovic concur, the biggest mistake organisations make when targeting culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people is not understanding the audience well enough. Cross-cultural communication is about more than just using a different language. You need to understand a bit about their traditions and culture and make sure your campaign is appropriate and will resonate with the target audience.


Ms Jokovic uses the example of an Arthritis Australia campaign, which was based on research identifying that in some CALD communities, arthritis was considered a symptom of ageing and therefore not treatable. This insight into the beliefs held by the target audience and relevant visuals – such as chopsticks with needles pointing out – meant the campaign resonated with the target audience. The campaign was also successful because it was distributed through media touchpoints known to reach the target audience. This led to good engagement with translated information sheets being downloaded from the website and more people from that cultural group seeking medical treatment.


Dr Sheikh-Eldin sites a Cancer Council of Victoria campaign where they collaborated with AMES to engage their target community. They held community information sessions where Cancer Council experts were on-hand to answer questions with the help of bilingual and multilingual community champions. The Cancer Council trained interested community members to become champions, offering them meaningful employment and building their capacity to help their community on an on-going basis. This also gave the community role models and ensured the approach was culturally and linguistically appropriate.


“The more you engage with CALD communities, the more the benefits and understanding will grow”, Dr Sheikh-Eldin says.


“Going directly to them, consulting them, will lead to better results. They will tell you how to communicate in a way that’s relevant, instead of delivering ineffective campaigns.”


Finding meaningful employment can be difficult for migrants, especially those with less English language skills, Dr Sheikh-Eldin highlights. CALD communities are often approached to participate in research or programs that were designed without them, by people who are employed to do the work but expect participants to volunteer. This can be incredibly frustrating and a missed opportunity.


Find out what skills your target audience has and, if possible, put them to use. Where possible, give people employment, internship or mentoring opportunities. The more diverse your workforce is, the better chance you have of reaching more of the market on a genuine level.

What channels are available?


Just as you would use different channels for different demographics (research shows, for example, different social media channels are more popular with different age groups), placing your campaign on channels used by your CALD target audience will increase your reach and ROI.


According to Leba Ethnic Media, Australia has around 200 print publications covering 47 communities, multicultural radio programs broadcast on over 100 stations, and 17 paid and streaming television stations in 7 languages (for Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Indian, Arabic, Italian and Greek communities). If you’re targeting audiences from mainland China, consider Chinese social media channels.


Many migrants use WhatsApp, which does have marketing options, to communicate with loved ones overseas, Dr Sheikh-Eldin points out. If you’re sharing health information, you could also consider campaigns in medical practice waiting areas, through agencies such as Medical Media, Ms Jokovic adds.


Use these channels to drive traffic to your website, where you will also need to have in-language information, an interpreting service or staff with appropriate training and language skills available to continue the conversation.

Common mistakes


Dr Sheikh-Eldin and Ms Jokovic shared some common mistakes they’ve seen organisations make when communicating with CALD audiences. We’ve summarised them to help you avoid them:

  • Consider your message within the cultural context of your target audience. With Coronavirus restrictions, for example, some communities interpreted the restrictions of 20 people at a gathering to mean 20 people at a time. It was not clear that having 20 people in a room at once, but 60 visitors throughout the day, for celebrations such as weddings, would breach the restrictions.

  • Go beyond translation. A creative campaign that was developed for mainstream audiences won’t necessarily resonate with your CALD audience – make sure it’s culturally sensitive and appropriate. “Originate your creative for that audience, don’t take something off the shelf that’s been for a different audience – you wouldn’t use the same creative for youths as retirees,” Ms Jokovic advises.

  • Check you’re using the right dialect of your target audiences’ language. For example, some Arabic speakers might use the Lebanese dialect, which wouldn’t be understood by Sudanese Arabic speakers.

  • Don’t assume the language is what defines the audience. You need to gain insights into their culture and assumptions. “Get your insight right, get your creative right, then execute”, Ms Jokovic explains.

  • Consider whether literal (word-for-word) translations are appropriate for your campaign, or you need to use localisation services to translate for meaning, to make sure it makes sense.

  • Don’t assume your target audience is uneducated. “People assume because I’m an African, hijab-wearing woman, I am un-educated. I have a PhD!” Dr Sheikh-Eldin says.

Can you afford not to reach CALD audiences?


By not genuinely engaging CALD audiences, you’re missing a huge segment of the Australian community, a market worth billions of dollars, Ms Jokovic emphasises.


“It’s increasingly important for organisations to understand the total market in this country and not ignore what is an incredibly valuable group of communities”.


According to the 2016 census, only 72.7 per cent of Australian residents speak English only at home, so English-only campaigns are missing a significant part of the market. As LEXIGO CEO Mark Saba highlighted in his post, 5 reasons to start targeting ethnic audiences, members of these communities will reject brands that do not address their cultural needs and give their loyalty to ones that do.


Dr Sheikh-Eldin also highlights how much CALD communities have to offer the broader Australian community.


“I see so many dentists and doctors coming to AMES to learn English with 20 years’ experience in their field, but they are sitting at home doing nothing, while regional Australians are having trouble accessing medical care”.


“People from refugee backgrounds have been through so much, they are very resilient and have learnt a lot in life. They can contribute even if they don’t speak English. Australia is missing out.”

Dr Melika Yassin Sheik-Eldin holds a PhD in Marine Biology, focussing on endangered Australian freshwater fish, from Deakin University in Victoria. Even with her Australian doctorate, she found it difficult to find work in her field, often being told she was “overqualified”. She found a new passion at AMES Australia, where she is now International and Community Development Manager, designing world-leading settlement programs and representing AMES Australia and Australia in international forums. Read more about her story here. *Views expressed in this article are Dr Sheik-Eldin’s own and not an official statement from AMES Australia.


Lorraine Jokovic is CEO of LOUD Communications Group, an award-winning strategic and creative agency that specialises in cross-cultural and multicultural strategies. She also has extensive experience in financial and professional services, automotive, social marketing, FMCG, health and wellbeing and government behaviour change. She is a National Board Member of the Communications Council and chairs their Diversity and Inclusion Group. She was listed on the B&T Women in Media Power List in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and has been identified as an AdNews Woman to Watch.



Written by Sophia Dickinson, LEXIGO: Sophia is a writer and communications consultant with 10 years’ experience in the public service and not-for-profit sectors. She has also taught English in France and spent a year working at a local NGO in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She is passionate about writing, intercultural communication and languages (she speaks French, Indonesian and is learning Spanish). Read more about her experiences at sophiadickinson.com.au

[1] https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/lookup/MEdia%20Release3

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