How to set up key messages for PR and marketing

Founders, CEOs, marketing or PR execs — here’s a simple (although not easy) process to creating key messages for your company.

Founders instinctively understand the need for an ‘elevator pitch’. But it’s not just investors who appreciate coherent communications around what you’re offering — if anything, your customers deserve an even clearer message. Also, your pitch deck and your marketing strategy, although they may share important elements, are not necessarily the same thing.

  • Gather a core team of 4–8 people in a room and brainstorm words and phrases related to your value prop, company values, vision, mission, differentiators — all the important ways of talking about the company to your audiences.
  • You’ll begin to see common threads. Group words together based on similarity, closeness — if possible, give the group an overarching name. Aim for 6–8 groups but no more than 10 — the fewer the better.
  • Have everyone vote on the one (two) words / groups that are the most core to your product. You’ll end up with a ranking. That’s the end of your workshop right now.
  • Now comes the copywriting. Use the words / values that ranked at the top of the list to form a sentence that describes what your company does, with max three distinct values expressed in that sentence (excellent copywriting skills are vital in this phase). This becomes your main message.
  • (Writing tips are somewhat out of scope for this post. I‘m happy to direct you to Scott Adams and his The Day You Became A Better Writer.)
  • If you have target audiences that require a slightly different focus or some specific aspects of your message need more detail, write 2–3 messages in addition to your key message. These become your supporting messages.
  • Together with proof points (data, evidence, arguments that back up your claims), they will form your message house.
  • Go back to the group for feedback, tweak if needed. At this stage, it’s best not to let any new ideas or words creep in. Re-prioritising some of the values the group want to be expressed in the messages can be okay as long as it’s clear why.
  • The final messages will serve as your message house (google it) that you’ll use to create either short or long-form copy, briefings, marketing messaging etc. Make it available to everyone in the company who needs it.
  • In fact, don’t just make it available — sell it within your organisation. Use it for your spokespeople briefings. Use it as a starting point for marketing copy. Use it in your internal comms.
  • Your messages may change over time as your company evolves. Revise as needed or go through the process again.
  • 💡 Tip: The process needs a facilitator, someone with experience in running workshops. The facilitator is not part of the brainstorm, they steer the group and help move the process along.
  • 💡 Tip: The copywriter that will be responsible for crafting the message should be at the workshop — the discussion can inform subtle nuances in the copy. The facilitator and the copywriter can be the same person (e.g. your head of PR or marketing).
  • 💡 Tip: Ideally, the CEO or top spokesperson for the company should be part of the workshop, for their buy-in as well as first-hand experience in delivering the message.
  • ⭐ Bonus: It’s a great alignment exercise for the team involved as you’ll be diving deep into what you all think the company really stands for.

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Comms strategist, occasional PR guy for #estonianmafia. Previously at Bolt, Skype, TransferWise. I write a newsletter at http://mrknt.substack.com