PR Smarts Article: Get Your Whole Team “On Message” Now
Remember the "telephone" circle game we used to play as kids? You'd whisper into the ear of your friend something like: "Alf doesn't know where Kate went” and, after making its way from person to person, the phrase would come out of the last kid's mouth as "Kate would make a great president."

The same thing happens in business. That's because many companies -- even large, well-established ones – often can't find the the time to 1) define their company in writing so it can be understood, and then 2) create a good, solid set of messages. Instead, information gets passed around, e-mail by e-mail, conversation by conversation, until every unit in the company might be saying different things about products and services -- the business development people are telling potential customers one thing, the marketers are saying another and the CEO, something else entirely.

The Power of a Unified Message

Customers won’t buy if they don't understand exactly what it is they are being offered. The same applies to the news media, recruits, partners and investors. If they can't figure you out, they're not going to pay attention. Both the definition and the messages can be used by every member of the staff – and others outside of your company who champion your cause, service or product – as a roadmap for effective communication. A group of people, all using the same key talking points consistently is a very powerful communication and public relations tool! RDC Communication/PR has worked with dozens of companies to create effective key messages.

A good message document has four parts:

1) the company ID

2) the elevator speech

3) 4-5 key must-say messages that you want to make sure gets into all of your communications -- from press interviews to presentations.

4) overall messages; the "factsheet" stuff that everyone on the team needs to know.

1) The Company ID

With a bit more detail, the elevator speech can be expanded to be the company ID (see #1) also called the “boilerplate” that lives at the bottom of your press releases. It need not be difficult to create a good, solid definition. Start by looking at what your competitors say about themselves. Yours needs to be more compelling than theirs, of course. So, look at all of your communication -- marketing materials, speeches, letters, business plans, funding solicitations, the web site and the slogans on those little frisbees you gave out at the last trade show. If you can't find at least three markedly different ways in which your company has been defined, you're not looking hard enough. Save the best elements from these if they are any good. Toss the rest, even if they are engraved on the building.

2) The Elevator Speech

Creating a killer elevator speech is critical. It's the 15-second answer to the question, "So what does your company do?" What they are really asking is “What can your company do for me?” A clear and compelling answer is often an opportunity to interest a potential customer, investor, strategic partner or employee.

Look at it from your customers' perspective. If you are a gadget maker, it's not as important what you make as what your product does for the user. If it make life easier or saves money for people at home or work, for example, say so. No one cares that you "make software" -- thousands of companies do. But if you make software that "helps law enforcement officers around the world share clues and close otherwise unsolvable cases," that's compelling. Compare that to "we're a software company that makes products for law enforcement." Once you draft your elevator speech, try it out on everyone -- particularly employees and customers. They'll tell you quickly if you're off base. Then, when you have the right one, go back and incorporate it into all of your communication.

3) A Dozen "Must-Say" Messages

Using your company ID paragraph as a starting point, the next step is to build a clear, concise set of short messages that everyone in your company can use to communicate with the audiences they deal with most. Your first message point might be “XYZCo. is the leading maker of software that enables law enforcement officials to….."

By answering questions similar to those below, you can build the dozen or so messages that make the case for paying attention to -- and doing business with -- your company:

• What are we? What category defines us? Then, what do we do for the client? What advantages do we give them? So, you end up with something like "XYZCo. is a leading Internet-related, financial services company that enables ordinary people to pay their monthly bills using other people's money (VCs, take note).

• Why do other companies do business with us? Because of our management team? Partnerships with other, better-known companies? Our "first-mover" status? Create a "bandwagon" approach that gives your company cachet through “gilt by association” with other well-known companies. If it's OK with your clients and/or partners, drop their names into your communication. Just knowing you do business with the US Navy, American Airlines or Wal-Mart, for example, will make some potential customers warm and tingly all over.

• What are the major attributes of your product or service? List them in order of importance. This will serve as a guide for anyone on your team writing a speech, a pitch for business, a direct mail campaign or other communication. Be sure to include a few easily digestible stats like revenue and staff growth, awards and even a testimonial or two.

• Is it a good place to work? Why? Retention rates? Benefits? Make the case for joining your team.
Must-say messages

4) Overall Messages

This is the rest of the information about your organization, the stuff you'll want to put into a factsheet so everyone on your team will have accurate information, e.g., product lines, past revenue figures, company locations and notable successes.  

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