While many training participants struggled to share a set of key messages live during a phone interview, the communications materials they submitted revealed many adequate to strong messages conveying organizations’ identities, goals and activities.

Many organizations have a set of consistent messages they use to discuss their missions, goals and activities. Some messages are strong, while others are compromised by jargon, missing information or internal indecision about what’s best to communicate.

Some interview subjects can share key messages or an elevator speech with ease and skill, though message quality was more readily apparent in review of their communications materials. Most of the messages contained some or all desirable elements, including basic facts, issue or need addressed, solution provided, meaningful words and an emotional trigger. Some messages stood out as particularly meaningful, compelling and well-considered, though others were notably lacking in some significant way. Many interview subjects were concerned that their messaging is not entirely on target, not jargon free, or not otherwise ideal.

While some reported internal indecision about what to communicate, most interviewees said that everyone within their organization would introduce the organization in substantively similar ways.

A significant focus of training and the Smart Chart, messaging coursework received very positive reviews. Many left training with a desire to simplify and strengthen their messaging. Some have contracted the help of consultants to develop messaging and results are new or in progress.


Messaging success and frustration

I think we’ve gotten a lot of traction with our messaging about _____. We see the field doing this more. Also, _____ seems to be a big topic, a central conversation. Our tagline has been a great messaging tool—we have a theory of change in our tagline.

[We work] very far upstream on large systems change. It’s abstract. We often tell our audiences that they are very sophisticated to pay attention to this work. Also, we try to show how the elements of the larger system are connected, for example, to a failure to listen to low-income [groups].

Finding messages that work for all of our audiences [is a major challenge]. And, we need to do a better job to create a more palatable initial message that people can grab onto, and not get bogged down in the details.

I don’t have a clear sense of [which messages work]. I am not sure our priority areas are working. People tend to latch on to the one they know the most about and they don’t see the full picture.

Tailoring messages

We try to make it concise and as simple as we can. This is more for new and potential funders. There isn’t just one [elevator speech]; I try to target to the interest of the foundation we’re working for.

Use of common messages

We’re on the same page. Also, we include staff broadly in all of our communications meetings… We are very consistent.

Everybody’s role is slightly different here and they might focus on their specific program. But they would use the same key words, phrases. I’d say they’re used by everybody here.

I’m not sure everybody has a description they could use with their mom and Mom would get it. I’m sure some people would explain it succinctly and clearly without jargon, but most of us would start with the long sentences full of jargon.

We can’t get it together. We tried to do common messages. Our theory of change and strategy need to be more focused.

Training influence

Messaging was [the] most relevant [part of training]. We have a greater appreciation that our messages were far too complex and we needed to simplify and change our language.

Training was a significant influence in message framing, branding, crisis communications and communicating an ask.

I brought the Smart Chart back and we adapted some of it as a simple model for strategic messaging planning.

The notion of a tight elevator speech was reinforced at training.

I’m keeping in mind who I am writing it for, and I’m thinking about how I can keep the messages concise. It’s more general. I’m not necessarily referring to a Smart Chart.

[Following training] We’re much more focused on the receiver of the information and how they might perceive the world and their role in it and how communications impacts them—that’s new for us.

[We learned] about stories, how to bring content alive. We’ve used that in annual reports, our website… stories that are less abstract.

Yes, [I learned to] try to be more concise, give examples. [Our topic] can be a little abstract.

We have honed [our messages]; they are more concise, less researchy. We are better at contextualizing everything. We present new information in the context of other work and broader world issues.

The training prompted our use of a brand and message consultant. And also it influenced me to try to move away from facts and figures to more people-based stories. But I’ve had little opportunity to do that. We have so many programs in so many areas… it becomes a list.

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