Whether you talk to the media weekly or once in a blue moon, you should have a trio of top-level messages about your firm to guide your media interactions.

Those key points—what we call a message triangle—keep you focused when you are talking to a reporter. If it’s a phone call, have them in front of you, written out in an actual triangle. Like “ready to wear” clothes, these are “ready to say” words about your firm.

Here’s an example of a top-level message shaped for the media. This might be appropriate for an asset manager focused on sustainable investments:

“No company is perfectly good or perfectly evil. Our job is to find outstanding investment opportunities among companies working hardest to be socially responsible.”

Note the following about that high-level core message:

  • It differentiates the firm in the competitive landscape—in this case, with a clear implication that not every sustainable-investing asset manager has the same philosophy
  • It’s quotable as stated
  • Its appearance in a news story would be positive branding for the company

Following is a look at how to shape salient messages for the media. First, a look at what they aren’t, as a way to help tune the ear to what they should be. Then, suggestions for organizing and drafting language.

Not vision, mission, values…just what are core messages for the media?

Your firm may have—whether publicized or not—a mission statement, brand promise or any number of other central messages about your purpose and products or services. Media-facing core messages harmonize with these. But a “vision statement,” say, can’t actually be one of your key points in media interviews.

That’s because a vision statement, as an aspirational objective, lacks of-the-moment salience that feeds journalists with material for stories. (The exception might be an entrepreneurial profile. Or, in rare cases—such as the famous “don’t be evil” from Google’s code of conduct for employees—mission/vision/values language might itself be a subject of news.)

Consider the following table of examples drawn from familiar organizations. For each type of message, the example given is likely recognizable as what the organization is about. Maybe you’d even nod your head, saying, “OK, yes, I never thought about it before, but it makes sense those are ALDI’s core values based on what I experience in the stores and with their products.”

If you found yourself nodding your head at any of these, then you know the example expresses something salient about the organization. What you want in media-facing core messages is that same high level of salience—but in language you can actually speak aloud, to reporters, that meets reporters’ needs.

For example, let’s go back to ALDI’s core values: Simplicity, Consistency, Responsibility. Here’s one possible high-level, media-appropriate message:

“Many shoppers think first of low prices, but what differentiates ALDI even more is the emphasis we place on sustainability in our supply chains. Only by taking that responsibility can we provide customers with the consistent store and product experiences they desire and deserve.”

It’s easy to imagine a reporter following up that comment with questions about just what supply-chain sustainability means.

And if any of those comments—the high-level message itself or the details that follow—make it into a story, then ALDI’s brand voice is coming through. Readers of that news story might nod along…and there we have one more piece in the mosaic of media mentions that support a brand.

Crafting high-level core messages for the media

Here are a few suggestions for whittling down and actually writing out your core media-facing messages.

  1. Aim for three points, each of which is truly different from one another. The reason for three—a triangle, not a square or pentagon—is you can only cover so much in an interview. Three key ideas gives you enough to work with but not too much to get lost in. Also, the ultimate audience, those reading or taking in the publication, can only take in and remember a few things.
  2. Create subpoints for each main point that support, restate, clarify or expand on your main point. These will help you be prepared for follow-up questions. They also provide additional options when creating a news release or other communication that touches on the theme.
  3. If you address products or services, do so in the context of the firm overall. (You can create a separate message triangle for a new product launch or announcement.)
  4. Know it’s OK to leave out topics that come to mind as important but not salient. This exercise is about what’s useful to reporters—not just what describes your firm.
  5. Use your firm name in the main points; when you say it as a quote to media, this helps to assure your company name will appear. Alternately, use “we.”
  6. Ask yourselves—and others internally—whether anything is missing. You may realize one of your top points should actually become a sub-point in another column, leaving room for another clear differentiator to take a top spot.
  7. Take great care in the phrasing of the top-level points, but don’t sweat too much the precise language of the supporting points that add more detail or nuance. Remember this is an internal-only tool meant to support oral communication. People will say the words slightly differently no matter how you write them. But you want your team to coalesce around the top-level points.

Next steps

Once you have your message triangle in good order, it’s time to put it to good use—with media interactions and in other contexts, too. The next post in this two-part series covers practical use of media-facing core messages, including in client communications. You may find that words designed to speak aloud to reporters are surprisingly useful in client letters and thought-leadership pieces.

Editor’s note: This is Part I of a two-part series. Part II will cover how to use your top media-facing messages—and not just with the media.