Client Messaging 101: Inside the ‘War Room’

One of my favorite things about PR is messaging – specifically, the messaging session. It’s the culmination of a much longer process; at March, we identify when is an appropriate time (and why) for a client to undergo a messaging revamp and pull together the essential building blocks that will lay the foundation for that new direction in messaging.

The messaging session itself is when we get all the main players into a room and just hash out ideas – ours, theirs and any new ones that pop up along the way – until we finally settle on the perfect message that everyone looks at and goes, “Yes. That is who we are.”

But, no matter how many messaging sessions you might attend (and I’ve led plenty myself), the challenge is the same each and every time: how to get a room full of people to sum up what their company means to them, and their audience, in one precise and concise statement. It requires a lot of patience, a lot of back-and-forth and a lot of fine-tuning to get it exactly right.

And, it all starts with one question:

Who Should Be in The Room?

Your messaging session “war room” should always start at the top, with the CEO. From there, it gets a bit more granular: you want someone involved with selling, someone involved with the product and someone who works with your customers on a daily basis, and understands their unique pain points. Who these people are and what their titles may be may change from company to company, but generally, it comes out to a VP of Sales, a CTO or VP of Product and a customer service manager, respectively.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But what about…?”

You could probably name a dozen other people at any given company who could have something to contribute to your messaging; but just because they could, doesn’t mean they should. More people in the room means more input and feedback, but that also means more second-guessing and more opportunity for derailing the discussion.

To keep the session as streamlined and on-point as possible, you really want to limit the room to the bare essential personnel: the CEO, the three or so other executives mentioned above and a couple people from your PR agency. The fewer overall people you have in the room with you, the easier time you’ll have in keeping things on track, constructive and moving in the same direction. A healthy debate is always a good thing, but what you don’t want is the session to be all debate. That’s not constructive and it doesn’t produce that cogent message you want at the end of it.

Once you’ve assembled your messaging war room with all the right people, it’s finally time to crack on with the session. Who speaks first? Who leads the brainstorm? How do you go about collecting dozens of different, even conflicting, ideas into a single message?

Check back next month for the answers in the final part of my digital PR messaging series.