What are you really saying?

For those of us in the Communications business, the words, “key message”, are bandied about a great deal. And for good reason, too.

They often form the primary question that we must answer before we get too attached to an idea, no matter how fun or ingenious that idea might appear to be in our minds.

“What is my key message and how does it support and boost my company’s reputation?”

If you can answer this important question with clarity, the plan will fall into place. You’ll know how to craft your talking points, whether it’s to the media or end users or partners; you’ll have a better handle of what form your Communications should take – be it an event, a cosy roundtable discussion or a music video; and you’ll be able to identify your objectives and set benchmarks with which to measure the success, or not, of the outcome.

But not all communications go according to plan. If they did, we’d be living in some unreal funk. Many will go belly-up, even if only subjectively. Having said that, in some cases, they are objectively downright disasters.

When I think about a subjective and objective failure, a case in point would be an announcement made by Singapore newspaper, The Straits Times in May 2012. The newspaper proudly told the world about a charity auction it was organising in conjunction with its 167th anniversary.

It seemed like any regular innocuous announcement the newspaper typically makes. Except that it wasn’t. The proceeds of the auction were to be used to subsidise one-year subscriptions to the newspaper for a thousand low-income families.

My reading of the plot and its key message was this: The Straits Times is a newspaper that everyone ought to read and we’ll make sure that more people do read it, voluntarily or not, because that’s the only way we’re going to increase subscriber numbers.

And my question was, “Where is the charity element in this carry-on?”

Reputations can take years to build and only seconds to destroy. They are vulnerable enough as they are being exposed to the elements without a company having to engage in self-sabotage.

Perhaps in the case of The Straits Times, the fact that they are Singapore’s national daily made them feel entitled to relax a little in the reputation stakes.

Even so, I wouldn’t recommend indulging in that feeling of entitlement.