Solid messaging for PR, including working with the traditional media and with bloggers, is critical. The best coverage comes when you are “on message.” A consistent message across all your communication for any announcement will help make sure the story you want told is effectively communicated to the journalists and bloggers who are writing it.
I’ve used this template for more than ten years across a broad range of announcements from product releases to crisis communications. The template is simple, but the work to make the decisions and get the content right takes time.
As with all templates and any written plan, the most important aspect is not to write a document, it’s to go through the process of coming up with creative solutions to the problems and making hard decisions. The document is merely a way to capture the results of this work and to communicate it to others.
So let’s break down the components of this template.
Section 1 – PR Announcement Summary
The first section is a summary of the key decisions that go along with any announcement:
A) What – What are you announcing? (e.g. a product launch, a funding round, a new hire, etc.)
B) Where – Where are you doing the announcement? (Most often this is just online, but many times it’s at an event.)
C) When – When are you doing the announcement? (It’s key to have everything aligned around the announcement date, and picking that date is a critical factor for any announcement.)
D) Who – Who are the spokespeople? The people who brief the journalists and bloggers need to be credible, on message, highly articulate, and, ideally, high-profile. Being clear on who will be the face of announcement is important.
Section 2 – PR Messages
The next section is the heart of the brief — the messaging. Most announcements should have 1 – 3 messages. More than 3 messages will make your story too confusing. Each message is broken down into four sections:
A) Message – A 10 word or less phase or sentence that communicates the message you will ACTUALLY SAY. The last point is the most important, and the hardest to achieve. Each message needs to be a phrase or sentence that you literally say over and over again. As you are asked questions, you need to consistently use the key message phrases in your answers to get your point across, so they should be short, simple, and natural.
B) Facts – All stories are built on facts, so giving writers facts they can work with is very powerful in terms of helping them build out there story. The best facts are specific; they have third party citations or numbers you can back up; and they are relevant.
C) Analogies – Analogies are one of the most powerful ways to make complex technical issues real for people. Good analogies are colorful and clear. They bring to life what you mean in your message. For example, when we had a security problem with an application server we were selling we had a message: “We provide tools for building websites, but we can’t control how they are used.” Then we had an analogy: “We sell a great hammer but that doesn’t mean people will use it to build good houses.”
D) Examples – The last section for each message is a concrete example. Usually this is a reference customer for whom you can describe what they actually did and the writer can follow-up and confirm it with the customer directly. For example, “the state department built a very secure site by using our tools properly. If you want I can put you in touch with them.”
Your messages should flow together as a story with a logical order. Instead of using slides, I do most press briefings by simply saying:
Today we’re announcing FOO. There are three things that are important about this announcement. First, [message] [facts] [analogy] [example]. Second… then at the end summarize.
When it’s a product announcement, usually the second message is about what makes the new product so groundbreaking, and it may have a few sub-messages that are the heart of the benefits or differentiators for the product. I’ll usually illustrate this with a quick product demo.
In a crisis communication interview, or when I’m giving background or input to a writer working on a feature or trend story, I’ll just put the brief in front of me and pepper the answers with the key messages, facts, analogies, and examples that get my point across. No matter what gets asked, I try to weave the messages into my answers, at the same time that I actually answer the questions.
Being on message has an incredibly powerful effect. You see the coverage for your announcements consistently communicating exactly what you want, and you help writers get the real story across without getting confused.
Finally, I want to be clear: the goal isn’t to “spin” or trick reporters and bloggers with a fancy or deceptive message. The goal is to be clear and honest. As Edward Murrow said, “…truth is the best propaganda and lies are the worst. To be persuasive we must be believable, to be believable we must be credible, to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.”