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Message Development

Message Development is Essential to Communications Planning. Good message development is a critical part of any communications plan. ... Messages help to shape the perception you want to have in your target audiences' minds, providing context and forging an emotional connection.


Messages have a special meaning in public relations. A message is not the same as an advertising slogan or a marketing line; a message is a simple and clear idea that acts as a guiding principle for all kinds of communications, from the content of leaflets, brochures and websites to the agenda for a media interview, to conversations with stakeholders.

Effective key message development is probably the most important tool in the strategic communications box.

A good message will be immediately appealing to its target audience: it should be strongly worded to stand out from everything else that is competing for their attention.

Sometimes we have a lot to say, as we are doing useful things. Having a lot to say can be a problem, though. If you try to communicate dozens of

ideas at the same time, your audience will suffer from “information overload” and end up failing to grasp any of these ideas properly at all. Too many different messages cause confusion, and you risk losing focus.

  • Do not use more than three messages at any time.

Communication will never get results if it is delivered in a form that requires your target audience to sit down with a strong cup of coffee, a dictionary, a table of acronyms and a calculator just to understand it. The simplest messages are the best. They require no effort to understand.

  • KISS (Keep it seample and stupid) principle is perfect for your campaigns 

You stand the best chance of determining what impression your audiences will take away of your project if they hear the same message from different sources and on different occasions. Without consistent messages, communication lack clarity and when different activities say different things about your project, the effect is diluted. When they all say the same thing about your project, the effect is multiplied.

A good PR programme approaches its public in many ways: by social media channels, by generating newspaper coverage for news events like launches, by promoting case studies and features to magazines, by lobbying policymakers – and dozens of other potential approaches.

  • Say nine things – they remember none; Say three things – they remember one; Say three things three times – they remember all three

There is a strong “bottleneck effect” in most PR activities: no matter how much you say, only a small amount of information will make it to your audience. You can only write 500 or so words on a press release before people stop reading. You can only talk for 20 minutes in a speech before your audience lose interest. A 30- minute television interview may be edited down to 30 seconds.

Messages help to ensure that the important information makes it through the bottleneck. By making messages simple you remove all secondary and less important information. 


How do you create key messages?

Ideally, developing key messages should be done through a three-phase process: 

Phase 1: Brainstorm key message concepts with internal stakeholders. 

Whenever possible, work with your organization’s communication staff to hold a key message development brainstorm session. Include internal stakeholders who ultimately need to approve the key messages. 

  • Make sure the person facilitating the brainstorm has access to flip charts, white boards, or smart boards to capture essential words, phrases, and explanations that can be used in the key messages. 

  •  As you begin the brainstorm, gather core information that will help guide the message development process: (1) Identify your communication goals. The key messages should support these goals. (2) Identify your messaging needs, and consider whether they are long-term or support a specific offering, issue, situation. or combination of topics. (3) Consider the people in your target audience. What do they need and want to hear from you? Do you have multiple target audiences? If so, tailor key messages to each group. 

  • After you identify your communication goals, message needs, and target audience, then you can develop key messages by answering the following questions. Try to keep your answers concise and avoid using technical jargon. 

  1.  What overarching message do you want to tell the target audience about your issue, product, service, organization, or research finding? 

  2.  Why is this overarching message important to them? 

  3. Why is it unique or different?

  4. Why would the target audience care to know this information? 

  5. What are the benefits and value proposition? Think about the WIFM (what’s in it for me) for the target audience.

  6. What are the barriers or challenges? Develop the messages around these issues. 

Phase 2: Refine draft key messages. 

After the brainstorm session, refine the draft versions of the key messages by reviewing them with the following questions in mind: 

  • Do they support your communication goals?

  • Can you or your organization “own” them, or can they be applied to competitors as well? 

  • When read out loud, do they sound conversational? 

  • Can you simplify the language or make statements more concise?

  • Do they motivate the target audience to act? 

Phase 3: Test, finalize, and routinely update key messages. 

After you refine the draft versions of the key messages, test those messages to ensure that they resonate with internal and external audiences. 

Your messages should be:

  • Concise: Optimally three key messages on one page; each statement only one to three sentences in length or under 30 seconds when spoken.

  • Strategic: Define, differentiate and address benefits/value proposition.

  • Relevant: Balance what you need to communicate with what your audience needs to know.

  • Compelling: Meaningful information designed to stimulate action.

  • Simple: Easy-to-understand language; avoid jargon and acronyms.

  • Memorable: Easy to recall and repeat; avoid run-on sentences.

  • Real: Active rather than passive voice; no advertising slogans.

  • Tailored: Effectively communicates with different target audiences, adapting language and depth of information.

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