Crafting Compelling Messages That Resonate

One of the most important roles PR professionals play is that of chief architect of the organizational message. Never has this role been more important than today, as issues have become more intense and the demand for transparency greater. The complexity of today’s 360 degree “CommUniverse,” where numerous stakeholders are constantly orbiting around an organization, requires more effective implementation of message strategies. Leaders are leaning on PR execs to help them develop effective strategies and messages for a wide variety of difficult situations that resonate with a lengthening list of stakeholders. With this expanding opportunity to shape and actually enhance organizational reputation, we must ensure our messages do indeed resonate. It’s tempting to rely on traditional approaches to messaging that worked well in the past when the more linear model of sender-receiver communications ruled the day. But in the new CommUniverse, communications often occurs without the involvement of the organization itself. Compounding the complexity is the exploding number of digital channels that have given rise to countless new communities and further enabled 24/7 conversations about companies. Effective messaging is not as easy as it used to be, particularly when the chips are down and the stakes are high. Many times messages are designed to respond to a situation and then cease, falling far short of communicating what organizations need and stakeholders want from conversations. Establishing a more strategic approach to message development can help PR pros prepare their organizations to respond in a manner that will not only resonate with stakeholders, but also accomplish the organization’s larger goals. The accompanying table lists points to consider when crafting organizational messages. When it’s well done, strategic messaging can be a powerful tool in today’s complex CommUniverse that not only helps the organization respond to situational needs, but leverages the opportunity to accomplish larger organizational goals. PRN CONTACT: Elise Mitchell is CEO of Mitchell Communications Group and a member of the PRSA/Counselors Academy. She can be reached at Messaging Strategy Considerations What needs to be accomplished What needs to be considered Aligning messages with organizational goals • What are leadership’s goals with stakeholders? • What are the needs and interests of stakeholders that must be fulfilled to help the organization succeed? • How well do leaders believe they are doing in the eyes of stakeholders? Consider the status of existing relationships • What are the perceptions, concerns or demands of stakeholders? Clarify what has happened • What happened (facts, figures, dates, locations, times)? Explain what is being done • What has been/is being done to correct or alleviate the situation? Demonstrate organizational accountability such as processes, procedures • How did the organization attempt to prevent or mitigate risk or injury? • Will these actions prevent the problem in the future? Consider the context • What are the relevant issues in the bigger business environment? • Is something similar happening to competitors, or just to your organization? • Was this something you caused or that happened due to external forces? • Do you have a track record of problems in this area? Properly prioritize the potential for risk • What is the level of risk/severity? • How important is this to individual stakeholders, as well as in the larger scheme of things? • Could this situation escalate at a later time? If so, what could trigger that escalation? Identify impacts • What are the opportunities with, or potential negative impacts on: people, the environment, facilities, brands, sales, business units and the overall reputation? Preserve relationships with key stakeholders • Who needs to be communicated with, and in what order? (Note: Start with the stakeholders most affected by the issue and work outward in concentric circles. The only exception to this rule is that employees should always be informed first when there is a public issue.) Earn trust through a timely response • When should you respond? • What is the opposition doing? • How long can you wait/how quickly should you jump in? • How available and prepared is your spokesperson(s)? Anticipate stakeholder reactions • What specifically do stakeholders need to know? • How much can the organization share, and with whom? • How will stakeholders likely respond? • What questions will they have? Acknowledge different viewpoints • Who thinks differently than you do on this issue? • How will detractors criticize you? • Is there a common ground to be found? Present a credible and reasonable voice to stakeholders • Who are your subject-matter experts? • Have they been trained? • Are their third-party spokespersons who could add a new dimension through credentials or credible objectivity? Remind stakeholders about what the organization is and why they should care • How should the message align with the larger corporate story?

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