Developing Key Messages

The “key” to developing key messages is preparation!

Plan, plan, plan

Strategic communication planning is necessary to ensure the success of a district’s communication with its multiple audiences. No matter what the issue, your communication plan will identify your audiences (both internal and external), your key messages, communication methods, and anticipated questions with consistent, truthful answers.

Identifying your key messages involves (a) specifying the major information that you want your audiences to know and (b) delineating what you want your audiences to do with the messages.

Limit, limit, limit

By the time your district is ready to undertake an important activity, you have a mountain of research, information, and collaborating facts that you could share at the drop of a hat. But audiences are not convinced or changed by being bombarded with these pieces of data. The next step in developing key messages is to synthesize your information until you see three or four main messages emerge. Do not have more than one main idea in each key message.

Edit, edit, edit

Now, you’ve planned your communication, reviewed your data, synthesized your message. It is time to make your message “memorable.” Once you’ve begun communicating your key messages, you will want people to remember them easily. That involves editing.

Simplify the language and eliminate any educational jargon. Review your messages; have other people look them over. Perhaps run them past some individuals who do not know the subject as well as you do to see if the message is “crystal clear.”

An example given by Lew Armistead, past president of the National School Public Relations Association, is the following: You are in the midst of a reading improvement program. One of the messages that you want to get out to the public is “If reading achievement is going to improve at our school, we need the help of parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters-everyone in the home?to make reading a priority there also.” (School Public RelationsBuilding Confidence in Education, 1999). It’s easy to see that this type of statement will not be remembered by your audiences. Using the “memorable message” technique, that statement can be transformed into “Reading must be a family affair!” Of course, you can follow this key message with an explanation, but in the meantime, your audience will have a “valuable nugget” to carry away.

Practice, practice, practice

Once you’ve identified your messages, write them down so you (and others) will be consistent in delivering them. You can even go so far as to put the messages on a note card that you can keep in your pocket for easy reference.

Anticipate the questions that you think you will be asked about your issue. Plan how you will respond to those questions using your key messages. But what if someone doesn’t ask you the “right” question that allows you to respond directly with your message? That becomes a time to develop “bridges” that allow you to respond, but then bridge to your message. Using words such as “and,” “but,” or “however,” will help you make the transition to your message.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Now you are ready to communicate. You have armed yourself, your board, administrators, and staff with three or four well-planned, succinct, consistent messages that people will hear, understand, and remember. As you proceed:

  • Reach out to all your audiences
  • Use a variety of communication techniques
  • Tailor your communication technique to reach a specific audience

As you develop key messages for your district’s issues, you will reap the benefits of strategically planned communication.

About the author

The Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA) is a professional association representing schools, school districts, educational associations, consulting agencies and organizations. WSPRA is a state affiliate of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). 4797 HAYES ROAD | SUITE 103 | MADISON, WI 53704 | PHONE: 608-241-0300 | WSPRA@AWSA.ORG