Saturday, 27 August 2016

Message Mapping; Communication that makes impact

How To Prepare A Message That Resonant With The Audience.
Ishola Ayodele

Message Map figure 1

Message Map template figure 2



The first step is to identify stakeholders – interested, affected, or influential parties – for a selected issue or topic of high concern. Stakeholders can be distinguished further by prioritizing them according to their potential to affect outcomes and their credibility with other stakeholders.
For example, stakeholders in a crisis situation might include:
• Victims
• Victim families
• Directly affected individuals
• Emergency response personnel
• Public health personnel (local, county, state, national)
• Law enforcement personnel
• Hospital personnel
• Families of emergency response, law enforcement, and hospital personnel
• Government agencies (all levels)
 • The media (all types)
And so on

Stakeholders in the issue of New Policy might include

• Legal professionals
• Contractors
• Consultants
• Suppliers
• Ethic/minority groups
• Groups with special needs (e.g., elderly populations, disabled populations, home bound)
• The media (all types)
• Advisory panels
• Non-government organizations
• Educators
• Manufacturers
• Religious community
• Business community (e.g., tourism, food services, and recreation)
• Law makers
• General public
       And so on


The second step in message mapping is to identify a complete list of specific concerns for each important stakeholder group.
Questions and concerns typically fall into three groupings:
(1) Overarching questions (for example: What is the most important thing that the public should know about this issue?)
(2) Informational questions (for example: “What is the budget allocated for your response?”)
(3) Challenging questions or statements (for example: “Why should we trust what you are telling us?; “How many more people have to die before you take appropriate action?)

Lists of specific concerns and questions are typically generated through empirical research, including:
• Media content analysis (print, radio, television)
• Analysis of web site material
• Document review, including pubic meeting records, public hearing records, and legislative transcripts
• Reviews of complaint logs, hot line logs, toll free number logs, and media logs.
• Focused interviews with subject matter experts
• Facilitated discussion sessions with individuals that are intimately familiar with the issue
• Focus groups
• Surveys

Research indicates that more than 95 percent of the concerns that will be raised by any stakeholder in any controversy, conflict, crisis, or high concern situation can be predicted in advance using these techniques.


The third step in message map construction is to analyze the lists of specific concerns to identify common sets of underlying general concerns. Case studies indicate that most high concern issues are associated with no more than 15-25 primary underlying general concerns. As part of this step, it is often useful to create a matrix or table that matches stakeholders with their concerns. The vertical axis of the table would list stakeholders (in priority order). The horizontal axis of the table would list concerns.


The fourth step in message map construction is to develop key messages in response to each stakeholder question, concern, or perception (see Figure 2).

Key messages are typically developed through brainstorming sessions with a message mapping team. As noted above, the message mapping team typically consists of a subject matter expert, a communication specialist, a policy / legal / management expert, and a facilitator.

The brainstorming session produces message narratives -- usually in the form of complete sentences -- which are entered as key messages onto the message map. Alternatively, the brainstorming session produces keywords for each message, which are entered onto the message map. Keywords serve as an aid to memory. Each separate message should have no more than 1-3 keywords.
Key messages should be based on what the target audience:
(1) Most needs to know
(2) Most wants to know

The most important message map is the “O” Map – the map that contains and displays the organization’s overarching, key, or core messages. The “O” maps addresses:
– What you believe people should know about the issue or topic
– What you want people to know regardless of the questions that you are asked
– What you would put in your opening statement at a presentation or press conference

It is critical that the “O” map be delivered to the intended audience. One technique for assuring delivery is “bridging.” An example of a bridging statement is: “I want to remind you again…” The “O” map frequently serves as “a port in a storm,” especially when questioning becomes aggressive.

Message map development and construction by the message mapping team should be guided by the theories and principles of risk and crisis communication. For example, mental noise theory – one of the main theoretical constructs of risk and crisis communication – indicates that when people are upset they often have difficulty hearing, understanding, and remembering information. Mental noise can reduce a person’s ability to process information by more than 80 percent.

The challenge for risk and crisis communicators, therefore, is to (1) overcome the barriers that mental noise creates; (2) produce accurate messages for diverse audiences; and (3) achieve maximum communication effectiveness within the constraints posed by mental noise.

Solutions to mental noise theory that guide key message development specifically, and message mapping generally, include:
• Developing a limited number of key messages: ideally 3 key messages or one key message with three parts for each underlying concern or specific question (conciseness)
• Keeping individual key messages brief: ideally less than 3 seconds or less than 9 words for each key message and less than 9 seconds and 27 words for the entire set of three key messages (brevity)
• Developing messages that are clearly understandable by the target audience: typically at the 6th to 8th grade readability level for communications to the general public (clarity)

Additional solutions include:
• Placing messages within the message set so that the most important messages occupy the first and last positions
• Citing third parties that are perceived as credible
• Developing key messages and supporting information that address important risk perception and outrage factors such as trust, benefits, control, voluntariness, dread, fairness, reversibility, catastrophic potential, effects on children, memorability, morality, origin, and familiarity
• Using graphics, visual aids, analogies, and narratives (e.g., personal stories), which can increase an individual’s ability to hear, understand, and recall a message by more than 50 percent
• Balancing negative key messages with positive, constructive, or solution oriented key messages, employing a ratio of least 3:1
• Avoiding unnecessary, indefensible, or non-productive uses of the words no, not, never, nothing, none


The fifth step in message map construction is to develop supporting facts and proofs for each key message. The same principles that guide key message construction should guide the development of supporting information. Proof points are not necessarily included in the message map. Some may be held in reserve to support a particular message is challenged.


The sixth step in message map construction is to conduct systematic message testing using standardized message testing procedures. Message testing should begin by asking subject matter experts not directly involved in the original message mapping process to validate the accuracy of technical information contained in the message map. Message testing should then be done with:
(1) Surrogates for key internal and external target audiences;
(2) Partner organizations.
Sharing and testing messages with partners ensures message consistency and coordination.

The seventh, and final step, is to plan for the delivery of the prepared message maps through: (1) a trained spokesperson; (2) appropriate communication channels; and (3) trusted individuals or organizations.
Once developed, message maps can be used in to structure press conferences, media interviews, information forums and exchanges, public meetings, web sites, telephone hot line scripts, and fact sheets or brochures focused on frequently asked questions.

Message Map Sample figure 3

Guidelines for Using Message Maps

• Use one or all of the three key messages on the message map as a media sound bite.

• Repeat and bridge to the over-arching message map – the map that contains the most important information to be conveyed -- frequently during interviews.

• Present the sound bite in less than 9 seconds for television and less than 27 words for the print media.

• When responding to specific questions from a reporter or a stakeholder regarding a key message, present the supporting information from the message map in less than 9 seconds or 27 words.

• If time allows, present the key messages and supporting information contained in a messages map using the “Triple T Model”:
 (1) Tell people what you are going to tell them, i.e., key messages;
 (2) Tell them more, i.e., supporting information;
 (3) Tell people again what you told them, i.e., repeat key messages.

• Stay on the prepared messages in the message map; avoid “winging it.”

• Take advantage of opportunities to reemphasize or bridge to key messages.

• Keep messages short and focused.

• Be honest: tell the truth.

Just as I said in the last post that, “it is not what you say but what people hear that provoke actions or reactions and what they hear is a product of the meaning they give your choice of words”.

Please share your thoughts with me by clicking the post a comment box below

For more insightful information and resources about effective communication read How to communicate for impact 

Ishola Ayodele is a Public Relations practitioner and a member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations.

He offers the following services to Large Corporations, SMEs and Individuals.

Result Oriented Communication,
Effective Crisis Communication,
Effectual Political Communication,
Reputation and Image management,
And Impactful Presentation Coaching.

He can be reached on
BBM 58ED6030,
twitter @ishopr and via

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