By Nancy Marshall, Marshall Communications Founder and CEO, and The PR Maven®

A message map is a tool that we use as part of The Marshall Plan® process at Marshall Communications. A message map is the foundation of all our public relations and marketing programs for clients. It includes a key message at its center that is 21 words in length. It takes seven seconds to say 21 words out loud. If you are familiar with broadcast news, you know that reporters and editors love seven-second sound bites. But we use the key message for more than just media interviews: we use it in brochure copy, speaking engagements, Web copy, and newsletter copy. Basically, you would use it everywhere you are talking about the organization. I like to say that it’s like a song sheet that allows everyone to sing in harmony. You know the phrase, “Let’s all sing from the same song sheet?” Your message map allows you to do just that.

One way to structure your key message at the core of your message map is to use an “XYZ” statement. Fill in the blanks: “We do X, for Y, so they can Z.”

Here’s an example of an XYZ statement:

At Marshall Communications, we create strategic marketing communications plans for clients statewide and nationally so they can grow significantly.

It’s best to think of how you are a “strategic hero” ready to swoop in and save the day for your clients or customers. Think about what keeps them up at night, and how you can help bring them peace of mind in whatever concerns them the most. Many of our clients are concerned about growing their client base, so we focus our own key message on helping them “grow significantly.”

A message map also includes proof points or supporting messages that can be used in conjunction with the key message in order to tell the story of your organization or company, or even a specific crisis situation. In the case of my own agency, my proof points would be about:

  • Our experience
  • Our client list
  • Methodology: specifically The Marshall Plan® process
  • Client success stories
  • Our team
  • Targeted industries: tourism/economic development; education/nonprofits; medical/healthcare

I learned about message mapping from Tripp Frohlichstein who has a company called Media Masters Training. Tripp is an expert in the field of crisis communications. He helps spokespersons for organizations that have been through a crisis to refine their message before they are interviewed by the media.

As you will see, the key message needs to focus on ‘concern for the customer,’ or in the case of a nonprofit, it could be about concern for the people that the organization serves.

At Marshall Communications, we’ve adapted Tripp’s message mapping techniques so they aren’t always related to a crisis. We use them to help companies and nonprofits explain who they are in a concise way. You need to be ready when The Today Show calls and invites you to tell the story of your organization on the show.

Click here to see some examples of message maps we have created for clients.