Developing and Magnetizing Your Messaging

A few weeks ago I wrote about the concept of “Media Training in Stages”—an approach that supports the view that an effective professional development program involves more than a one-off workshop.

The first of the four stages is developing and tightening your messaging. That’s where we’ll dig in now.

Shaping a Magnetic Message

It sounds so basic. The words you utter do make a difference. Yet a magnetic message is more than a mere collection of facts. Properly constructed, your message is a systematic argument that serves to attract listeners to your point of view. It also makes it easy for you to stick to your story when pressing your point in media interviews, presentations, Congressional testimony, and Capitol Hill fly-ins.


There are no short cuts to developing a magnetic message. Indeed, we can spend hour upon hour in a training workshop hammering out a tight message. Your message should consist of three to four central ideas that can withstand rigorous questioning (hint: To test the magnetic attraction of your message, invite the office skeptic to toss questions at you. If one or more of your message points is responsive to her salvos, you likely have achieved the necessary magnetism).

I’ll let you in on a little media training secret: Most organizations have never developed formal messages for their key issues. Or if they have, the messaging is of extremely poor quality. Think of the opportunities this presents for you. You can top the competition by crafting a tight message and making the commitment to delivering it at every opportunity.

Here are some key questions that can help you get started down the road to a magnetic message. Ask yourself:

  • What is the problem?
  • What is your solution?
  • What is the next step?
  • How can you put matters into context for your listeners?
  • How does your issue affect them?
  • Why should they care?
  • What’s in it for them?
  • What do you want them to do about it?

This list is by no means exhaustive. You will no doubt develop other queries that fit your situation. But this does give you a good starting point.

Repetition Is a Good Thing

It is not enough to state your message once and walk away. Repetition is one of the most important tools available to you.

Here’s what I mean. During my days as a reporter, I was sometimes going from one event to the next, wondering where I was and what the issue at hand involved. If a news source told me his opinion several times, I would finally start to get it after hearing it for the third or fourth time. Redundancy and repetition generates greater intensity of understanding.

Add a Dash of Spice

Words that flow on paper do not necessarily equate with silver tongued oratory. The spoken word must contain some color, so place your listeners at the scene of your conquest or defeat. Make them feel the joy of your success or the pain of your embarrassment. Plant an image in their mind that remains with them long after you part company.

The most dynamic communicators appeal not only with their words, but with images. It makes your topic seem more real and more important. Here is a sampling of the tools you have at your fingertips to liven up your message:

  • Stories
  • Numbers, fractions, percentages
  • Extremes (the best, the first, the only)
  • Case studies
  • Ju jitsu (citing the opposition)
  • Quotations from others
  • Anecdotes
  • Analogies
  • Topics du jour
  • Clichés
  • Personal experience
  • Humor

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Message development is hard work. I have consulted with Fortune 500 companies that have abysmal messages. It is hard to imagine how they got to a position of strength in the marketplace with such shoddy craftsmanship. It is equally difficult to envision how they will maintain their leadership positions.

You would also think that public relations agencies would be skilled at message development. Yet it hits me like a bolt of lightning every time I see one of those multinational agencies try to pawn off a five-page laundry list of bullet points or some overly complicated proprietary diagram as messages. Any firm that proves unable to provide you with an easy to broadcast set of messages deserves to be shown the door.

Sadly, most organizations fail to devote the time to developing messages for their key issues. Looking on the bright side, this gives you an enormous opportunity to surpass your competitors if you go about it the right way.

Next up, we’ll examine the second stage of media training: Gaining familiarity with the media.



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