3 min Read
March 8, 2012

What exactly are key messages, anyway?

To pick up the conversation from this month’s Duck Pond, let’s say that you have fully developed key messages that you’re happy with, but still don’t really know how to use them.

I’ll continue with the Fight Colorectal Cancer example from the Duck Pond. You might recall that we structured their key messages as follows:

  1. Problem: What is colorectal cancer? Colorectal cancer is cancer that forms in the rectum or colon.
  2. Solution: What does Fight Colorectal Cancer do? Fight Colorectal Cancer demands a cure for colorectal cancer.
  3. Action: What can you do? You can join the fight against colorectal cancer.

Each of those sections, too, includes further explanation, in bullet point form.

If you need to create an overview brochure for Fight Colorectal Cancer, with the key messages, you’ve already got your big ideas right in front of you. And if you need to hire a freelancer who doesn’t know the first thing about the organization, the key messages serve as a good starting point.

The simplest way to write the content is to follow the structure of the key messages exactly. Maybe it’s one panel of the brochure for each of those sections. Turn the summarizing statements and the bullet points that follow into compelling prose that appeals to the audience you want to reach. An overview brochure is a general piece, so there will probably already be a lot of language you can pick up from the key messages. You’ll just need to write it for readability.

Let’s say that Fight Colorectal Cancer wants to create a brochure to get their current advocates more involved in various actions. What do you do?

Their current advocates probably already know the problem pretty well. Maybe you can leave the bulk of the problem section of the key messages out of your brochure copy completely. Or perhaps you have a callout with relevant facts and figures to help advocates have an easy reference point for their conversations with policymakers and friends.

As you look at the solution section, it kicks off with “Fight Colorectal Cancer demands a cure for colorectal cancer.” Well, that’s what advocates do, so this section is obviously relevant for your needs in writing this brochure.

The solution section of their messages has headings about Fight Colorectal Cancer’s patient and family support services, their aggressive approach to improving research, their role as a resource for the entire cancer community, and their advocacy work in DC. And each of those headings has backup points.

For an advocacy brochure, two of those sub-sections will be relevant and important: their aggressive approach to improving research and their advocacy work in DC.

The action section of the key messages will also be ripe with information for the advocates who’ll read your brochure.

Ultimately, using Fight Colorectal Cancer’s key messages, you’ll pick and choose the statements and bullet points that will be most compelling to current advocates and that will help you make a compelling case for deeper involvement. You’ll then turn those bullet points into the kind of passionate prose that appeals to activists.

Your key messages are meant to be fluid and adaptable. You won’t necessarily use all of them all the time. And there will almost certainly be times that you’ll need more information than just your key messages to create the prose.

Key messages are simply your jumping-off-point for almost any writing project, which helps you avoid that ever-daunting blank page.

This is just one example of key messages in action. Do you have any examples of times you’ve found key messages helpful? Any other questions about using key messages? The comments are your friends.

Dan Gunderman

Dan Gunderman is the Former Creative Director at Big Duck

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