Key messages are critical at every stage of communications from developing your nonprofit’s communications strategy to executing it. They help you stay focused on what you want to say.
One of the most important times to be prepared with key messages is when you are being interviewed by the media. In this situation, your key messages are specific to the situation rather than your organization’s overarching set of key messages. Though naturally, you want to weave in those overarching messages as much as appropriate.
You’ve been contacted by the media
When your organization has attracted the media attention, you need to know what to say. You need to know your key messages.
If you were not expecting the attention, ask the reporter what they would like to talk about so you can determine the content and context of the interview. You can also determine the best person to speak to the media. Find out what the reporter’s timeline is and when they need to hear back from you to meet their deadline. They may not always be able to accommodate a time that works best on your end but it’s reasonable to ask.
Get the reporter’s name, media outlet and how best to reach them. Be as helpful as possible.
Ideally, you want to arrange at least enough time to determine your key messages especially if it is a developing situation where you need to learn the facts.
Developing key messages for your media interview
In short, your key messages are what you want the audience to know and remember. Your goal is to know what messages you want to communicate in your answers to the reporter’s questions.
- Start by capturing the reason for the interview in 1 sentence.
- Figure out how you can tell your whole story in 3 short, clear sentences.
- Anticipate the 5WH questions: who, what, where, when, why and how
- Share the facts you are able to share even if it is sad or bad news.
- Can you say each message using 140 characters or less so it is concise like a tweet?
- Better yet, can you share your whole story in 140 characters?
Tips for writing your key messages
- Create sentences that can stand on their own.
- Use simple words
- Be sure to consider the audience you want to reach.
- Emphasize the positive such as “Our main priority is to ensure the well-being of those affected…”
- Avoid jargon and acronyms that aren’t easily understood by the average person
- Avoid words such as “think,” “feel” or “believe” since they turn statements of fact into opinions.
- Avoid using “but” since it tends to signal that an excuse is coming and detracts from the sentence’s positive beginning.
Nothing is ever truly “off the record.”
When you are being interviewed, never share anything off the record. Once a reporter knows something, it could get used–if not immediately then down the road. It may even become a tip to explore from sources that are willing to be on the record.
The best way to keep something off the record is not to share it. Only share information you are willing to see in a news story. Don’t make the media the keeper of your secrets.