The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the Government Affairs Industry Network (GAIN) have partnered on a series of presentations designed to help public affairs professionals better communicate with government officials and to more effectively advocate on behalf of their clients and issues. The series, Politics, Communication, and Advocacy: A Practical Playbook, recently included a presentation on messaging. I sat in on Don’t Digress. Maintain Message. and found that much of the information could be applied outside of public affairs. Following is a snapshot of the discussion, including my favorite advice at the end.
What’s in a Message.
The presentation was led by Melanie Baucom, press secretary for Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID).* She opened by pointing out that the most important part of staying on message is to actually have a message.
Baucom suggests that effective messaging is:
And effectively delivered
When crafting your story, be thoughtful about why it matters. Anecdotes that explain a struggle or celebrate a success will add to relatability. And understand the needs of your audience. While your messaging should be consistent, you will need to tailor it to meet the needs of the audience you’re addressing. For historians, what you present at a briefing hosted by the National History Center may be different from what you say at the town council meeting or on your book tour at Politics and Prose, even if the key take away is essentially the same. (This cheat sheet on audience identification may be helpful.)
Topline Dissemination Tips
Baucom went on to discuss different vehicles for message dissemination, including direct conversations, traditional media (television, radio, print), and social media. She touched briefly on issues about formatting press materials. Calling out press releases specifically, she emphasized the importance of clear and consistent boilerplate language. This is the 3-5 sentences at the end of every press release that tells who you are. She also gave examples of how her office uses graphic design to help connect messaging on social media. Color schemes, fonts, photos, and of course hashtags, are all tools she uses to help draw attention to the information that she’s sending out and to help embed it in the minds of the people she’s trying to reach.
Her office embraces social media (as should historians) because it gives them an opportunity to really tell their story without the filter of traditional media. She uses Twitter especially to get out their message, but knows Facebook is necessary as well. Photographs on Instagram help her reach a younger audience with a combination of memorable imagery and the added benefit of being able to write comprehensive posts to provide context.
My favorite advice from her was a two-fold theme that connected everything she said.
1) Ask yourself, is my messaging necessary? I typically encourage historians to speak out as much as they can, but Baucom’s advice here is sound. If you’ve taken a position on an issue before, repeating that position makes sense. If your position has changed, that’s fine, just be transparent as to why your thinking has evolved. If you have particular information or expertise to contribute, you definitely should. But if you don’t have the information or the expertise to back up your position, be disciplined and sit this one out. There will be other opportunities to connect with people about issues that matter.
2) Repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s hard. It’s repetitive and, well, seemingly boring. But the way to get your message through is to repeat it, over and over and over again. While you’ve said it a million times, this may be the first time someone hears or sees it. And we all need that repetition to get information to stick in our brains.
That’s a quick overview of the discussion from Don’t Digress. Maintain Message. While the discussion was focused on Congressional outreach, this information really does apply to the communications efforts of historians as well. So if your message is necessary (and likely it is) get out there and repeat, repeat, repeat.
If you could use some extra bandwidth on your communications activities, let me know.
*The positions of elected officials may not reflect my own.