Key Topics:

Making the message

Once you have firmed up the objectives of the organization and the kind of communications you might need, you are already on your way to shaping and developing messages. In what way should these messages be communicated; what tools are you going to use? Press releases? Public service announcement? Blogging? Developing messages is not only thinking of what to say, but how you're going to say it.

In many cases, you are going to have audiences that only glimpse your messages. Therefore, conceptualize your messages in terms of what points people should take away from that glimpse. This means you will have one or two key points covered in your messages. Messages need to be focused on a topic, consistent with your previous messages in content and look, and based on your communication strategy and cognizant of your audience.

For more on framing the nuclear message, see Nuclear Matters.

Source: (Adapted) The Kellogg Foundation

Three step process in designing messages

1. Start with a conclusion. The take-away message.
This step is the development of the message key promise. The message should be clear and simple. It should focus on the stakeholders' needs, not the organization's desire to communicate a message about its programmes. It should target stakeholders' beliefs and opinions, and answer the question "what does it have to do with me?" It should include a call to action if you want to modify attitudes and change behaviours. The message must be culturally sensitive, memorable and concise.

2. Use supporting data, evidence, stories.
In order for a message to be credible, you need support statements. Why is what you are promising beneficial to the audience? The benefits you are promising should refer to information used to persuade the target audiences that the recommended behaviour results in benefits claimed by the programme. In other words: "why does the key promise outweigh the obstacles?"

3. Meaning of the message for the people that you are trying to address.
You need to create a tone, a feeling appropriate to the target audience group and the information you are delivering. The image of the message is related to the communicator and the environment. The practitioner has to overcome beliefs, cultural practices, pressures, and misinformation that might stand between the audience and the desired objectives. The communicator should ask the following question: "what do I want the target audience to do after they hear/watch the message?"

Tools for Effective Communications in UNDP

The most effective and memorable message are:

  • Simple, making use of analogies (The Center for Science in the Public Interest, for example, refers to fettuccine as "a heart attack on a plate.")
  • Unexpected, producing a short circuit between two mental frames
  • Concrete, using specific language and details
  • Credentialed, relying on authorities and testable ideas
  • Emotional, tapping negative or positive feelings
  • Stories with real people
Source: "Loud and Clear: Crafting Messages That Stick - What Nonprofits Can Learn From Urban Legend,"
by Chip Heath, in Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Tools and Links

The Frameworks Institute has developed an excellent toolkit which applies new communications thinking to frame public understanding and engagement.

An article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review discusses how to craft messages that stick

Next topic: Unique Selling Proposition