What are key messages?

Key messages are snippets of information that you want to relay to your target audiences. They consist of information you want your target groups to hear and remember. Any messages should reflect the organisation’s vision and mission, and they should be closely connected to goals, objectives and target groups.

According to Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), messages need to be: concise (a message should be from one to three sentences in length); strategic ( messages should provide a value proposition); relevant (to the target groups); compelling ( messages should stimulate actions); simple ( messages should have clear and simple language); memorable ( messages should be easy to remember and repeat); real ( messages should use active language) and tailored (based on the target groups).

Predefined messages will help you in sharing key information with your target groups and will help you in getting your point across to them. Also, thinking about your key messages prior to engaging in your communication helps with your efficiency. The process of pre-defining messages also allows the whole team to give suggestions and feedback on the messages created (CuttingedgePR, 2020)


How to shape your messages?

The process of shaping your messages is something that your Communication Action Team (Patterson and Radtke, 2009) should implement and comprises several steps. Based on the ideas of Gotter, 2019, Patterson and Radtke, 2009 and Pono, 2016, when crafting your messages, it would be good to follow these general tips and tricks:

  • Remind yourself of your vision and mission, goals and target groups. This will give your communication a direction and determine what topics you will need to cover. Shape your vision and mission in 20-25 words, tops. This will already help you to create overall messages for your communication plan, as your mission and vision set the template for communication activities.
  • Choose words you want to use and what you want to avoid in your communication. It is always a good idea to create a list of words that you should not use in your communication and what you should use in order to maximise your impact.
  • Think about your unique selling point (USP). USP is a distinct and appealing idea that would motivate your target group to participate in your activities and causes. It is something that distinguishes you from others. Maybe it is an innovative programme you are implementing or the way decisions are made within your organisation. Whatever your USP is, you need to have it in mind when creating your messages.
  • Each message should outline some benefits. It is advisable that you create messages that highlight benefits for your target groups. You can always put yourself in the shoes of your target group and think about the answer to the following question: What is in it for me? The answer to this question will help you to shape more effective messages.
  • Support your messages with different information. When you create messages, it is always a good idea to support your messages with some additional data and information, which can include facts (e.g. the number of people participating in your programmes), quotes (e.g. what volunteers or participants said about your organisation) or stories (e.g. how did the implementation of your activities help to make a change in the life of beneficiaries). Messages that evoke emotions are always more effective.

Message triangle

One of the methods you can use is called the message triangle (Patterson and Radtke, 2009). This method states that every message consists of three parts:

  • Defining the issue. This helps in creating a connection between target groups and your organisation. For example, an earthquake that happened recently damaged many buildings, including schools. As a result, pupils are not able to go to school and are having trouble learning new information.
  • Specifying why the target group should care. You need to highlight why this issue is important for your target group and why they should care. For example, volunteering could give you a chance to help young people with learning and create meaningful connections with families and children in need.
  • Explaining what you want from your target groups – what they need to do, think or feel. This part is connected with a call to action. For example, come and volunteer at our organisation. Help children with their learning once a week and create a better society today.

When you connect all of these three parts of the triangle, you get the message that shapes the issue, the importance of the issue and a call to action.

Setting the tone of your messages

In the end, it is also important to think about the tone of your messages. You need to define what type of language and tone will best get through to your target groups. Maybe you will have a more relaxed tone and use more emojis. Or you will be more formal and provocative. Maybe you will be inspiring, open, active, youthful, energising, funny… The choice depends on your primary target group and the way they communicate. It is always a good idea to go back to your persona or target group description and to think about what kind of tone and information they would react best to. Don’t be afraid to use a human voice and phrases that would attract your target groups.

Draft messages should also be tested before you begin your communication efforts. (Bick, 1999) You can share messages to all of your team members and solicit feedback. Also, you can contact part of the target group and share your messages with them. When you receive feedback, bring together your Communication Action Team and discuss it. Incorporate the changes and you’re ready to go!


Domagoj Moric
Domagoj Morić

Facilitator and a trainer in the field of youth. He holds MA in Communication Sciences and currently is attending PhD in the same field. For the last ten years, he has been working as consultant for public relations for different NGO’s and has implemented several campaigns related to civic education and sustainable energy. He regularly works as a trainer in the field of youth and school education. Domagoj is member of the trainers’ pool of Croatian National Agency and SALTO SEE and is also working with other NA’s and other institutions such as European Parliament and Council of Europe, as well as private companies and NGO sector.