Aug 12

The Windex of words: Key messages

Put some windex on it memeWhenever SPR begins a new client engagement, we like to start with developing key messages – a recommendation that, more often than not, elicits groans rather than cheers.

Clients don’t want to “waste” their time or money on key messages, preferring to skip straight to the “good stuff” – a media pitch, social media campaign or another tactic that feels like it’s advancing the ball.

But those who listen to our counsel and invest a few hours in partnering with us to develop key messages invariably appreciate the process and the final result. Their satisfaction equals that of players in the boardgame Life who choose to go to college – it may take a bit more time, but the payoffs are bigger and longer lasting, well worth the investment and the delayed gratification.

Key messages are single sentences that describe who you are as an organization, what you do, how you do it and why you are different from your competition. Key messages distill your essence in a real and meaningful way. They underscore your brand commitment. They provide you and your team a cohesive way to tell your story.

In other words, key messages are liquid gold. They are worth their weight in gold. They are the Windex of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Key messages are not taglines, though. They are not your mission or vision, even though each key message should support both.

Key messages allow new team members – and the agency teams who support them – to have an immediate and easy shorthand to talk about the organization. They are handy when pitching the media, giving you and your agency the ability to reach the heart of the matter in a few sentences that are already well-crafted.

Done well, key messages form the backbone of much of your content, be it website, social media posts, press releases or internal messaging. They will help you stay in your lane, ensuring you define your organization in the way you want to be known – not necessarily in the way your competitors, former employees or less-than-happy customers want to paint you.

As a bonus, key messages are invaluable in crisis situations. Done well and updated appropriately, they often answer reporter questions about the basics of an organization quickly and easily. Key messages can save you precious minutes fumbling to find facts when your hair is on fire.

By their very nature, key messages reinforce company culture. Do you have employees or team members? Do you talk about a commitment to community or can you show it? Do you focus on innovation or driving creativity?

Key messages are not sacrosanct, but they should not be tinkered with lightly. Updated, yes, on a regular basis as your organization grows and changes. But fight when other stakeholders want to step in with a red pen after key messages have been vetted and approved.

We delivered a set of well-crafted, well-researched and thorough key messages last year to an organization. Developing them was a time-consuming process that required us to dig in and understand the organization, its goals and its sacred cows. Fast-forward a year, and we’ve watched these key messages be pecked to the point of uselessness by well-intentioned board members, employees and “marketing experts” outside the organization.

We’re now trying – and failing – to create content for this organization because, in large part, we’ve allowed the key messages to be eviscerated.

This is the dispiriting exception, though, rather than the rule. Earlier this summer, we delivered a set of key messages more beautiful and robust than typical. The CEO swooned after reading them, exclaiming “We’ve needed these for years!”

We’re getting ready to deliver another set of key messages this afternoon. I’m confident – and hopeful – the reaction will be similar to the above CEO.

I remain an ardent advocate for key messages. While they may seem like a nuisance, they truly are the Windex for communications success.


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