This post may contain affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, if you click a link and make a purchase, I will make a commission. Please read my disclosure for details.
Teaching Students to Develop Message Maps
In the first post in this series I provided an activity to teach students what key messages are and how they can begin learning to identify and extract key messages. If you haven’t read it, please do so before proceeding.
Below, students take the brainstorm activity and go out and get some feedback for their key messages. Then, they develop a message map.
Testing Key Messages
Once key messages are developed (as described in the previous post), students present them to the class in a casual presentation. The purpose of the presentation is to solicit feedback from their peers. Each group gets about 15 minutes or so to stand in front of the class to ask questions and get reactions and advice from their classmates about their key messages.
As part of this exercise, I require my students to have a core message, which is an overarching idea that applies to all publics in their campaign. For example, “milk is a healthy necessity no home should be without” or “Everyone’s a hero at XYZ Camp.” That core message is the thing that holds the other messages together. It unifies, or sits above, all other key messages. This will be discussed further in the message map exercise in the next post.
Once students have gotten some feedback from their teammates, they can refine their messages. From there, they are required to go out into the field with their refined messages and test them via a focus group or a series of one-on-one interviews with members of of their target audience. They then take that feedback and refine their messages once more.
I require my students to provide a brief write up their notes from their presentation to the class and the focus group or interviews. They must then explain how the feedback they got from the presentation helped them refine their messages. Then, they must show how the feedback they got from their focus group/interviews helped them modify and improve their messages.
What is a Message Map
Next, students turn their message ideas into a message map.
A message map is a way to visualize a core message, key messages, and any message support. It helps your team quickly share and communicate around your messaging.
A great way to introduce your students to this concept is to show this quick overview of how to build a message map.
Try having your students replicate this process quickly with their client. For example, give them five minutes to create a core message with three key messages. The key here isn’t for the students to get a great set of messages in five minutes. It is to warm them up to how this model works.
Message Map Exercise
Students are now going to lay out their message map. I require students to create a message map for at least 2 target publics, with messages tailored to those publics. For each public, they briefly describe the public and provide the goals or desired benefits that we have for that public. This keeps them focused on aligning messages with who they are targeting and why. They also list the message support alongside each key message.
Because my students are working on a campaign as well, they must also provide a campaign title and theme. From a messaging point of view, a campaign is a central unifying call to action. The title is the name used to describe it. Just like a theme for a party, campaign theme is the current of energy or creativity that runs through the campaign. A theme permeates all aspects of a campaign the way a party theme permeates the food, the decorations, the place settings, the dress, and the music and mood of a party.
In addition to the campaign theme and campaign title, students provide their core message.
Message Map Worksheet
Because I tend to think from top to bottom as opposed to visually, I have set up the below message map worksheet with a series of tables in MS Word. However, if you like things to be laid out differently, feel free to modify the worksheet.
All told, students are required to put everything described in the above section on one sheet of paper for ease of access. It gets all of their ideas quickly in one place. It lets me quickly see where they are coming from.
See the below printable, my message map activity worksheet.
Next Steps: Teaching Key Messages
- See: How to Teach Key Messages to PR and Marketing Students
- Become an expert at messaging by reading Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. See my review of Made to Stick.
Liked this post? Subscribe to my email list to get updates when new posts are published! On desktop, sign up on the left by entering your email address and clicking subscribe. On mobile, scroll down to the bottom of the page to sign up.