The 10 Keys to Public Affairs Messaging


The 10 Keys to Public Affairs Messaging

Sending a message to the governor and lawmakers once involved phone calls, letters and faxes. Now, you can add online petitions, websites, Facebook posts and tweets to the mix.

Public affairs messaging is evolving. We just witnessed a presidential campaign with hyper-targeted appeal videos and sharable graphics sent directly to your smartphone. Campaigns used texts to maximize contributions and organize volunteers.

As things move, here are 10 things to remember in public affairs messaging:

1. Have a well-defined goal. Determine how you will know whether you have won. Know what the scoreboard is and the role messaging plays in putting points on the board.

2. Know your audience. The 2012 Obama campaign engaged in a groundbreaking metric-driven effort that relied on data collection to guide strategy, precisely target key audiences and develop insights that helped the campaign continuously test and tweak its messaging and operations. Bloomberg and Slate documented how the campaign engaged in “microlistening” that ultimately inspired people open to the president’s agenda to act on behalf of the reelection. The lesson we can take from the campaign is to gather as much data on your target audience as possible, develop a compelling message and test and tweak it constantly. Know where the audience goes, what they watch and to whom they listen. Create compelling and engaging content that speaks to them where they are. Communicate with your audience in a language they understand. And provide the audience with a call to action and leverage all efforts toward moving these targets your way.

3. Tell your own story. Become a newsmaker by broadcasting your own message directly to your target audience. Build an audience you can engage without relying on middlemen. The goal is to reach your target audience with an unfiltered message and inspire them to take action. Monitor conversations to predict events and have the flexibility to adjust your tactics and communicate appropriately, should the landscape change.

4. Win a debate before it starts. Defining an issue early, build a compelling narrative that’s framed in a way to help you reach your goal and stay focused on the message. Remember to act quickly. The first person to define the terms of the debate usually wins the argument. Keep your message simple.

5. Win every day. Actively monitor media channels for developments that provide messaging opportunities. As campaign strategist James Carville said,  “Speed kills your opponent.” Time is precious so don’t hesitate to make a decision. Act rapidly and aggressively to capitalize on messaging opportunities.  Oreo effectively won the Super Bowl ad contest by acting quickly to take advantage of the power outage that delayed the game to create a memorable message that was distributed through the Oreo Cookie Twitter account.

6. Use every communication tool. Media convergence has arrived, but with so many choices available, the audience is more segmented than ever. Be willing to use every tool in the box – print, audio, video, graphics – to reach and influence your target audience.

7. Remember mobile. According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, more than half of adults in the U.S. have a mobile Internet connection through either a smartphone or tablet. Americans are increasingly relying on mobile devices to receive news and information. Because of this increased use of mobile devices, communicators need to be more creative in message delivery and employ tactics that also translate to the mobile format.

8. Think visual. Remember and respect the importance of the social media sphere and tell your story with compelling images – and deliver them in a way that allows your audience to share them. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is true.

9. Be local. As Speaker Tip O’Neil famously said, “All politics is local.” When messaging, don’t forget home base. Create activity at the grassroots level and turn your cause into a “going home” issue for a decision maker.

10. Be real. Humanize the story you’re telling. Find real-world examples of the policy change you champion. For example, Organizing for America, a grassroots group spawned by the 2012 Obama campaign, is currently encouraging people to share their personal stories about gun violence. These stories become compelling testimonials that can be featured across the media spectrum.