What to Avoid When Developing a Message (1)


By Lisa Hester, Senior Account Manager

Have you ever been asked by a client to help draw attention to their particular cause or to a need they know they can fill? Of course, yes, that’s what we do in PR. But there are some pitfalls associated with these types of communications that may not be particularly obvious. During a recent webinar by political counsellor, strategist and spokesperson Shaun Adamec, Adamec shared “four things we get wrong in social cause communication.” As food for thought, we will explore the four items in a two-part blog series. Let’s start today with two of the four, and a bit about each from my standpoint and his.

  1. Wait, how can we not choose messages that resonate with our audience? I checked Mirriam-Webster for the meaning of resonate: “to relate harmoniously, to strike a chord.”  It’s not that we don’t want to deliver messages that an audience will relate to and understand. But sometimes we want to expand their thinking. Sometimes we want to tell them about our client’s innovative product or process…something they’ve never even thought about before. If, for example, Henry Ford had asked the community at that time what they really wanted, Adamec said, they’d have said faster horses. The automobile wasn’t even within their realm of thinking. But it was definitely in Ford’s. Thus, if our client is aiming to fill a niche, or solve a problem in a new way, we need to give the audience scenarios they can relate to, but with new, never-thought-of solutions that meet their needs.
  1. Adamec invites us to think about the old TV newsroom adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.” It is appropriate, at times, to create a sense of urgency. But studies have shown that simply creating a sense of urgency can lead to immediate action, but not sustained action. You can more readily get a one-time donation or a spur-of-the-moment purchase by setting up a crisis scenario. But if we don’t integrate the long-term benefits or, more importantly, a true, deep-rooted solution, our efforts result in no more than a one-and-done. I’ve seen this myself in dog rescue. People may help find a home for a death row dog if they know the dog’s time is about up and/or they may make a donation to help that dog. And certainly that is great for that specific dog. But the real solution with long-term effects for all dogs in kill shelters lies in spay/neuter laws, careful monitoring of breeders, licensing, etc. It takes a sustained communication and education effort to win support of the longer-term solutions, but the results can last indefinitely.

In the next blog post, we will discuss the additional two pitfalls to avoid when developing messaging for your clients.