Communications: Crafting key messages and getting media coverage

Developing effective key messages

Concise, clear messages that promote action are essential for building support on campus and in the broader community. Once a campaign or event’s goals have been identified, developing effective messaging is vital. These messages will focus the conversation in a way that helps you achieve your goals and is core to any media strategy, event, document, or interaction. They allow you to construct effective press releases, focus your interviews, and be consistent with reporters and editors. A strong set of messages has four elements:

  • Problem/issue:Clearly define the reason for the campaign, event, press release, or media interaction. Example: “The provincial government wants to tie university funding to an arbitrary set of ‘performance metrics’”
  • Impact/urgency: This explains why members of the campus community, the media—and by extension, the public—should be interested in the problem, issue, or event. Example: “Evidence shows that this reckless approach to funding creates inequity, hurts students, and threatens the quality of education and research.”
  • Solution: You need to provide a solution or resolution to the issue or problem you have defined. Example: “Rather than engaging in risky and destabilizing changes to the funding formula, the government should put students first and provide universities with the funding they need to provide a high-quality education.”
  • Call to action: An effective message outlines what needs to be done to achieve the desired solution. Ideally, this will provide some way for the public to get involved with your initiative or campaign. Example: “If you are concerned about the government’s reckless cuts to university funding, email your election candidates to tell them you support greater investment in Ontario’s universities.”

Tips for effective messages

  • Your goals and audience will influence how you construct your messaging. Make sure you are clear on your goals and have defined your audience before crafting your messages (Students? Faculty? Politicians? Media?). Your goals are unlikely to change, but who you are speaking to will determine how you focus and construct each point.
  • Develop a message box where all of your key messages are clearly laid out. This document will become a core part of your communications strategy.
  • Your key messages should summarize your position in a few concise, simple, and easy to understand sentences.
  • Messages are most effective when they are personal. That is, when they speak to how an issue will impact an individual or group of individuals, how those individuals can become involved in the solution, and how their involvement will make a difference.
  • Make sure all of your messages are supported by solid, well-researched facts and that you have easy access to this data before doing interviews.
  • Tone and style are also important. Evoke sympathy and empathy; project confidence, not desperation; use active words; and add a sense of urgency and immediacy, especially if you are trying to get media coverage.
  • Make sure all of your spokespeople have a copy of the message box and are familiar with your key messages before talking to the media. Consistency across your faculty association is important.
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat your messages. Repetition is key to building understanding.
  • Don’t repeat the arguments made by those who oppose your position. Understanding their arguments is important, but repeating them only gives them legitimacy and helps them spread.
  • While key messages are very important, some situations will require you to go beyond your messages or develop new ones. Your message box is a living document. Update it as necessary.
  • For more information about building an effective message box and for examples, contact OCUFA Communications Lead Ben Lewis at