how to develop key PR messages

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Key messages build the foundation of public relations. They help PR prioritize efforts, ensure consistency, and stay focused when speaking to the media, employees and other stakeholders.

“In addition to audience retention and the ability to respond to questions faster, having agreed-upon messaging in place helps you align client stakeholders, build spokesperson confidence and provide a useful metric when measuring and tracking success,” asserts Kellye Crane in Solo PR Pro.

Developing key messages is among first and most important steps in PR. If a PR campaign fails, there’s a good a chance it might be due a weak or nonexistent key messages. If journalists don’t report what you desire, before you blame them, check if you properly developed and re-enforced your key messages.

Development of Good Key Messages

You can describe a key message as an elevator pitch:  a short summary of what your organization represents, the distinctive value it offers, and what differentiates it from competitors. Good key messages are:

  • Concise, generally no more than a sentence or two,
  • Easy to understand,
  • Memorable,
  • Accurate and verifiable,
  • Relevant to specific audiences,
  • Compelling but not pompous, and
  • Written down.

Focus on the benefits, your unique value proposition for the target audience.

“Key messages help create a perception in the minds of your target audience. They help the customers remember and brag about you. They enable media and influencers to write or say the right things about you,” according to FableSquare, an influencer marketing agency.

Experts also recommend developing no more than a few key messages, each targeted to a particular audience segment. “Too many messages and you won’t have focus. If your messages are a paragraph each, you will not be effective,” warns Neal Linkon for PR Fuel. Writing your messages down makes sure they are short, concise, and understandable.”

It’s critical that key messages be free of corporate jargon and gobbledygook. In the age of two-way communications and social media, overly packaged messages convey an inauthentic air.

Steps to Develop PR Key Messages

Debbie Wetherhead, president of Wetherhead Communications, recommends following these steps to develop a key message.

  • Consider company goals and objectives to ensure key messages align with your overall business strategy.
  • Identify brand vocabulary, considering words and phrases you want associated with your brand and their SEO implications.
  • Conduct a competitive analysis to avoid creating key messages in a vacuum or too close to competitors’ messages.

Armed with that background, gather stakeholders and your PR and marketing team to brainstorm possible messages, Wetherhead advises. Repeat possible messages out loud to ensure they sound conversational.

After your team drafts a message, test it with internal and external audiences. Periodically review key messages to make sure they still resonate with evolving audience needs.

While conducting PR campaigns, use your media monitoring service to monitor media for mentions of your key messages in addition to mentions of your brand, products, executive leaders and other keywords.

3 Elements of Key Messages

Many companies, writes PR veteran Kim Harrison for Cutting Edge PR, follow this simple formula:

  1. A central overall message.
  2. Supporting messages.
  3. “Proof points” that offer the message or provide greater detail.

Ask These Questions

Ask these questions when crafting key messages, Harrison advises.

Do they align with your organizational mission, business plans, goals and objectives, and brand strategy?

Are they unique to your firm or can they be applied to competitors as well?

When read out loud, do they sound convincing and credible?

Can you simplify and tighten the wording?

Do they motivate stakeholders to act – giving a call to action?

“Put a reminder into your calendar to check your key messages from time to time,” he adds. “Although they support your mission, values and brand at the outset, you should ensure they still meet your and audience needs over time.”

Bottom Line: Key messages represent a starting point of any public relations program. They unify PR efforts, support company spokespeople and provide an invaluable metric when tracking and measuring PR success. Following these steps will help you develop key messages that encourage your audiences to remember your brand and compel them to take desired actions.

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This article was first published on Oct 20, 2016, and updated on Oct. 29, 2020.