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Messages That Move Mountains

When talking about social good campaigns to the media, partners, donors or any other stakeholder -- or for that matter, a naysayer-- crafting the right messages and staying consistent is vital. The proverbial call to action is almost always also a call to care. So, no biggie: you need to come up with messages that can move mountains.

Your messages should be a short list of points that are:

  • Authentic - in sync with your mission and purpose
  • Credible – verifiable by external sources
  • Simple – easily understood, reducible to themes that can be repeated
  • Adaptable to different audiences and occasions

To help you craft those compelling messages, picture yourself building a house. Let’s approach that task from the top down.

Build your message house. Start with the roof. Picture it as expressing the campaign’s vision, its answer to the cosmic “Why?” Why does this campaign matter? Imagine a “Because…” in front of your vision statement, which easily becomes a tagline.

The roof needs support from roughly three pillars. Don’t get lost wordsmithing statements few can memorize. Your three pillars are the message categories that you want all spokespeople to include in every pitch, interview, employee pep talk or other internal or external communication about the campaign. They should address the campaign’s who, what, why and how. Enlist the audience in your mission: what do you need them to do? And keep these ideas in mind when you build your pillars:

  • Anticipate the likeliest harsh criticism and pre-empt it with a positive message.
  • Tailor your message for the audience. Spoon-feed them the answer to “What’s in it for me?”
  • Help people understand why they should care about the identified problem and what they must do to help solve it.

A foundation of facts keeps the message house strong and protected from attempts to bring it down or - equally as bad -ignore it. Inspiring messages are made of user-friendly language, which also means numbers must wear a human face.

  • Not “There are 2,920 deaths each year from accidental shootings in the home” but “Eight kids are shot each day in what we’re calling Family Fire.”
  • Not “3,450 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving in 2016” but “On average, distracted driving kills nearly 10 people in the US each day.”

Test your messages by thinking like a reporter:

  • What’s the problem?
  • Who’s impacted?
  • Why should others care?
  • How can we help?

Any time spokespeople are fielding questions from stakeholders, including in interviews, key messages play two vital roles. One, they are the elevator pitch, the essence of what spokespeople need to convey. And two, they offer the answer key for just about any question that may come up, which also ensures campaign representatives sing from the same song sheet. Make your message house the heart of all your communications.


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