Your PR team is emailing you. Again. They have a new idea for a trend pitch, but they need some messaging information from you to draft it. Didn’t the UK team do something about this last month? The email thread is long-since buried and you don’t have a messaging handbook to keep track of all of this, so you have to write it all up again. Your Director of Products could help, but you’ve asked them for three comments already this month and they’re getting grumpy. Do you still have those somewhere? No time to track them down.
Does this sound familiar?
If you’re a Marketing Manager with a global team, they’re going to constantly need messaging and positioning information from you about products, trends and though-leadership topics to hit different audiences, journalists and verticals. This sets up an endless cycle of creating and editing messaging information. But there’s a better way to manage this process. Creating a messaging handbook can centralize all of this information, keep it up to date, improve consistency and reduce cycles across your teams. A little organization can go a long way!
What is a messaging handbook? It’s a document (or library) that lays out approved language for how to talk about a company’s products, history, value, trends, ecosystem, etc. Its goal is to help spokespeople prepare for interviews, and to guide public relations (and sometimes marketing) professionals in drafting quotes, pitches and materials for press. Think of it as a cousin to the press kit, but enhanced with a big dose of perspective. This is especially useful for large organizations with global teams, and it should be an integral part of any comprehensive communications strategy.
Not convinced you need a messaging handbook yet? Here are four benefits that might make you reconsider:
- Reduced cycles when drafting email comments – PR/marketing professionals can use the material in the handbook when drafting quotes or email comments to the media, partners, prospects and more. This allows them to work more efficiently as the comments are typically based on pre-approved content within the messaging handbook.
- Consistent messaging – If you have multiple PR/marketing teams, a messaging handbook can help ensure consistent messaging across all of their activities. This is especially helpful if you’re managing PR teams around the world and struggle to approve content quickly with different time zones.
- Easier spokesperson prep – Your PR team can use the messaging handbook when writing briefing documents or preparing spokespeople for interviews. You’ll know that the material is approved, so your PR team doesn’t have to come up with messaging from scratch (and get it approved), and the spokesperson will be better-prepared.
- Fewer demands on your SMEs – If you invest in a high-quality messaging handbook, your PR team won’t need to speak with your SMEs as often. They will feel more comfortable drafting comments, rather than asking the SME to do it for them (or you can provide initial draft content to the SME that’s likely more targeted). That means less editing, fewer emails and more time saved for your SME. They’ll thank you!
Let Your PR Team Take the Lead on Creating the Messaging Handbook
While a messaging handbook might seem like something driven by the marketing team, it’s primary audience is press. The PR team typically has the strongest grasp around what type of information (or stories) will resonate with them. Therefore, let your PR team take ownership of this kind of asset. Guide them to use the company’s marketing pillars when drafting the company-centric (and product) information, but then let them drive the industry issues and topics to include (at least as a first pass). Remember, this document is to help create comments for press. It should answer the common questions reporters usually have and use language they will understand.
In an ideal world, you’d have the SME create the entire documents (they’re the experts, right), but they typically have very limited time for content creation. Therefore, a comprehensive handbook should be a living ecosystem of content that is updated often. When you speak with a SME on a topic, add relevant bits of the conversation to the handbook. If you have a greenfield topic, arrange a brainstorm or call to gather critical insights.
Tips For Creating A Messaging Handbook
Tip One – Logistics and Planning
Before you assign this project out, talk about the logistics of the process with your PR Manager. Think about where the final document will live, how often it will be updated, version control, and how to share it with your teams (consider localization and translation if necessary). Version control and updating are especially important, since trends will come and go and your company will launch new products.
Tip Two – Map It Out
Plan out the sections of your handbook in detail before anyone starts researching or drafting. We suggest including the following sections:
- Company information, key dates, growth or success metrics you’re comfortable sharing.
- A short summary of the company’s major customers and verticals.
- One sentence and one paragraph statements about the company’s mission/values and sales approach (direct, channel, etc.).
- Descriptions of each of the company’s products including links to data sheets and white papers as needed.
- A summary of 5-8 major topics or issues that appear in the news frequently in your industry. For example, a security company might include ransomware, phishing and data breaches. Each of these should include some background information on what the issue is as well as the company’s “take” on it.
- Answers to common questions your company receives often.
Tip Three – Getting the Info
Research existing company messaging and marketing documents to fill in the sections you decided on. Next, layer on addition information from brainstorms and interviews with PR Manager, marketing leaders and SMEs. Also, take this opportunity to explain what the messaging handbook is to these other stakeholders and sell them on its value.
Tip Four – Set Expectations
A messaging handbook is a living document and it’s crucial that you set a process for regularly updating it. Without updates, it will quickly become outdated and waste time and resources. We recommend reviewing the handbook every month to identify any changes. Updates should be made monthly if possible, or quarterly at a bare minimum. Pay particular attention to any statistics that may become out of date and new products the company has launched. Determine if any new topics should be added to the handbook, and work with SMEs to draft updated content. Also, set processes for sharing the updated version with your teams and reminding them to use it. They need to buy into the document as well!
While creating a messaging handbook is no small task, it can pay huge dividends when managing large global PR programs. If you’re ready to get started on your company’s messaging handbook, Voxus is happy to help. Contact us here.