Be strategic about picking your messengers



Let’s assume you’ve honed your nonprofit’s cause message. It’s clear, concise, compelling, and consistent. You’ve also defined your key audiences and done basic research on them.

Now what?

Before you leap to decisions about communications channels, think about your messengers.

Who people hear a message from has a lot to do with: 1) how well they listen, 2) whether they believe what’s said, and 3) whether they remember the message and act on it in some way. So, it pays to strategically consider all your options. In many cases, your organization may not be the best messenger for your message. (This is not an endorsement for celebrity spokespersons—instead, it’s encouragement to get more creative and targeted when deciding who can best carry your message to which audience.)

The messenger is a key part of your communications strategy, often as important as the message itself. Messages can be reinforced or undermined by your choice of messenger. If you use the wrong messenger, your target audience will never hear your message or, worse, reject it.  If you use a messenger who is trusted by your audience, your message becomes stickier because of that person’s authority.

Here are a few examples of messenger targeting to get you thinking.

  • If one of your key audiences for trying to increase support for pre-school education funding is the K-12 community, maybe you use a 6th grade teacher as your messenger rather than a mom or a child development expert.
  • If one of your key audiences for improving smart growth and land protection is policymakers, maybe you use a suburban mayor as your messenger.  If one of your audiences is young mothers, maybe you use a physician talking about how childhood asthma and obesity are related to sprawl. If you’re talking moreto rural audiences, maybe you use a local angler or hunter to deliver your message.
  • If you’re trying to deliver a public health message to a specific population, you want to be sure to use a messenger with high credibility with that group. Remember the stop smoking ads that used youth talking to youth about how the tobacco corporations had manipulated them? That message would have been much less effective if the messenger had been an adult. Likewise, children’s oral health campaigns have been more effective using pediatricians rather than dentists as messengers. (Dentists were perceived as having too much self-interest.)
  • If you’re targeting an older demographic for a  campaign to support a youth development program, maybe you use a senior as a messenger rather than a youth development expert…or maybe a police person talking about public safety issues that are highly relevant to that population.

A simple exercise is to list all the categories of potential messengers that might be effective with each of your key audiences, then rate each category’s credibility with that audience. IMPORTANT: The less self-interest there is between the message and the messenger the better. For instance, the public assumes that known advocates for a cause have a vested interest and may be biased. Also keep in mind that unusual suspects  and unlikely allies can be highly effective messengers. Then for the most promising category for each audience, brainstorm who the ideal individual might be to fill that messenger role.

Finally, whatever messengers you choose, they should be honest and in keeping with your nonprofit’s brand integrity. Stay away from shills.

CC photo credit: wonderlane



One Response to “Be strategic about picking your messengers”

  1. Tactics—Step 4 in strategic communications planning for nonprofits « IMPACTMAX Says:

    […] pack the most punch. They can be as motivating as the message sometimes.  Here’s a past post of mine that encourages nonprofits to be strategic in picking messengers—including unusual […]

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