Here’s how I do message mapping using these basic concepts plus a few more:
- Gather together the key people who will in an event need to decide what needs to be communicated. No point in going through a big exercise if senior leaders haven’t been a part of it and don’t know the thinking and rationale involved, or legal people will step all over your statements of empathy, concern and apology. Get those who will need to make the call involved in planning the messages from the beginning.
- Create an exhaustive list of scenarios–keep in mind one big lesson from the gulf spill, don’t skimp on imagination. Take your worst case scenario and then make it ten times worst. Clearly one of the biggest underlying mistakes in the gulf was not confronting how bad things could get if all the failsafe systems failed. They did, it got bad. Don’t let your imagination fail you here.
- Put your scenarios into a risk matrix. Make a chart on your white board. On the left side draw a line representing likelihood, with high at the top and low at the bottom. Across the bottom draw a line representing impact, with high on the right and low connecting to the line for likelihood. Then place each of your scenarios (numbers work better than names here) on the chart. There are four quadrants–upper right is high likelihood, high impact. That’s the red zone. Lower right is orange, lower likelihood but high impact. Yellow is upper left–high likelihood, low impact. Green is low and low.
- Prioritize based on what the matrix tells you. Certainly you’ll want to focus on the red zone, but don’t forget the others, particularly yellow. Things that are likely to happen, even if relatively low impact, warrant attention. In part because things tend to roll together.
- Draft an empathy statement. How will you concisely express your concern for those impacted? It is not just important to start with this for the words, but as a reminder to those who deliver the message that if they do not sincerely communicate concern for those impacted, nothing else will matter.
- Create your three key messages, using the 3/9/27 rule. This is not easy, folks. Getting what is most important down to just what needs to be said is hard stuff.
- Create your sub-messages. Yes, you can add details for when providing those details is available to you. You can just never let the details get in the way of continually, loudly, consistently and concisely communicating those key messages.
Creating message maps should be standard practice for risk communicators, and Gerald’s post here gives a set of steps as to how to best accomplish it.
In my eyes the two most important pieces of this process are those that are routinely ignored. Involving senior leaders early and often and ranking message development priority by risk. Too often we get pushed in a direction (that might not be the most important) at leadership’s urging and then hand them a completed project.
The more invested leadership is in the development process, the more likely they will utilize your messages in an emergency. And the more likely the emergency, the more reason to actually have messages developed. Seems simple, right?