The four ‘must haves’ in any Public Affairs plan: #4 Messaging
As many Public Affairs professionals will know, the PA department can have many different tasks to handle, some which may not even be core for a PA function. This depends of course on the organization, the raison d’être for the PA function and how many people will be working to execute the tasks. However, every good PA department starts with a plan - and in this extract from his book “The Public Affairs Engine” Ulobby CEO Anders Kopp Jensen gives his two cents on the four essential parts of such a PA-plan, continuing with step number 4:
A notoriously either under- or overvalued part of a PA campaign is messaging. Messaging and positioning are of course interdependent and what good does a great PA strategy do you if your messaging and communication is completely off? Developing a well-thought-through message platform for all your issues is surprisingly undervalued compared to other more classical PA activities such as events or network costs, while overvalued in terms of the time spent and importance placed on commenting on everything taking place in society and SoMe. However, overall messaging is very important and this will only increase in the coming years as the amount of “noise” in media or SoMe increases and everybody is fighting to get attention.
The framework for your messaging should reflect your position(s) which we just covered. If you are a challenger your messaging can, of course, be far more bold or aggressive, and you can take on the role as the new guy in class. However, if you are the market leader you often have to take more factors into consideration before you launch new campaigns, and frequently also have to be very careful to follow the public agenda.
So where do you start? For each of the issues you know the priorities, the scenarios you face as well as the position you will take. Going back to the framework for information exchange you need to set up a process which provides you the information you need from your own organization as well as calibrate this with what is going on in the outside world.
Again, remember the framework from chapter 2 on one of the important functions of the Public Affairs department.
When involving internal colleagues to provide input for the messaging, remember that politicians don’t care about all the detailed merits of your product or how you are the best company in your space. They want to know what you do about the issues they are interested in.
To avoid these mistakes, PA needs to set up the right process for obtaining feedback as your colleagues outside of the PA department can be a great source of inspiration for ideas and insights. In this part a three-step approach can be applied:
Form an advocacy group:
First, it is crucial to establish a form and advocacy group and formalize meeting rhythms. The key is to identify the “strategic” stakeholders and experts inside your organization to create ambassadors and the right commitment.
Set up monitoring:
Secondly, you need to have some routines in place for obtaining new views and insights on the topics relevant to the organization. This can be achieved through, for example, using digital tools for social listening.
Set up meeting frequency:
Often these steps are ignored, as inviting numerous internal colleagues from different departments (and time zones) will delay the process and make it more bureaucratic each time a comma is changed and it needs to be resent for approval. However, besides being important for making your messaging sharper, it also makes them aware of what is going on, and thereby increases the chance of them supporting the messages and activities in their work.
Once you have the messaging in place, you can then convert it into tactical slices, or perhaps a message house like the one included as an example. Before you fill it out remember three principles for doing so:
“The medium is the message”:
The old saying that the medium is the message is perhaps truer in advertising than PA, but nonetheless it is very important not just to uncritically push your messaging out into every possible channel. Banner ads all over the news sites can be counter- productive. Don’t let marketing or communications control the execution phase alone.
Don’t “foie gras stuff” your messaging:
Simply don’t try to force your messages onto your target group all the time. Any politician knows that repetition changes behavior but still it is a balance, and if you keep cramming your message down their throats their sympathies will most likely change and you might come across as bullying or overtly aggressive.
Don’t yell or sensationalize:
In comedy, sometimes, it helps to yell. So, for some comedians, the louder they yell, the funnier they seem. But this approach cannot be replicated by PA. The same goes for sensationalizing your arguments or case. This is just not credible, and politicians are smarter than that. This does not mean you cannot be bold or even aggressive at times, if needed, but think it through – and still don’t yell or sensationalize things.
Also, remember to make a distinction between your messaging towards the issue or the group you are trying to influence in some direction. Sometimes it is more effective to go after one or the other, e.g. if a certain group or actor is dominating the issue-setting, then it can make more sense to attack them instead of the issue.
Message houses come in many sizes and colors and some might perceive them as outdated. But the most important thing about them is essentially that you do the exercise as it forces you and your team to think and discuss the messaging through and afterwards you will have a structure on how you communicate.
Anders Kopp Jensen
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