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The Principle of Message Development

The idea of “message development” is at the core of most marketing and PRprograms. In fact, it should be at the core of all our business activities.The message we deliver to our various publics should be consistent — shapedand tailored, perhaps, even dynamic — but always consistent.

Doesn’t that run the risk of becoming boring, you might ask? No. The risk isthat you will articulate your message so clearly that it will resonate withall sectors of your public and they’ll “get it.” That’s an excellent outcome.

We are continually advised to “focus” our message, “broaden” our message, “elevate” the message, “personalize” the message, “simplify” our message, and even “encapsulate” it. Everyone wants to develop the perfect “elevator” speech — explain what you do in ten seconds or less.  We must also help our listeners understand why they, in particular, need our product or service and what makes it worth the cost to them — probably in a thirty second blurb.

There are several ways to approach message discovery and message development. If you have a business history, you might examine your public advertising, marketing, and PR documents, as well as your corporate charter and purpose and your statements in annual reports. Invite your salespersons to deliver their pitches to you. Ask your best customers what they have heard and how they understand your business and products. Ask your telephone receptionists, the lobby greeters, and your board of directors. Ask your employees’ children, “what does your mommy or daddy do at work?” What do the media and the industry consultants say about your products or services? This kind of investigation will help you discover the core elements, as well,
most likely, as the gaping holes, in your message.

If your company and product or service are new, the approach may be different, but the need for rigorous investigation is no less important. One approach is to ask, “what would I want my salesperson, receptionist, board member, or employee’s child to say if he or she were confronted with such questions?” What headline would you like on that first product review in the trade journals? Fill in the blank: “Oh, yeah, you’re the people who  ____________.”

As you work through this process and develop the words and feelings and define the motivations you want to engender, you can begin to develop and refine your message. Keep in mind your many publics and generate a message that speaks to each of them. It may be the same words for several groups or different for each. Then test them for internal consistency. You may discover a slogan that anchors your messages, or an image, or even a tune. But, don’t sacrifice clarity and meaning for cuteness. Likewise, don’t pass up an opportunity for “spark.”

As you craft your message, work from one level to the next — starting from very broad and general and working toward specificity, or the other way around. And continually test for internal consistency and truth.

Guiding your message development and determining the vehicles for delivering your message are among the most important services your PR firm can provide you. Once you have developed your message, keeping it in the forefront of your communications campaign is critical to success. Your PR consultant can help you focus your message, help you customize it for particular audiences, help you mold your message as your company grows and changes, and provide a sounding board to ensure that crucial internal consistency.

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