At a time in America’s history when the threat of war was pervasive and the future unclear, President John F. Kennedy stood in front of the nation and delivered his now infamous inaugural speech where he requested of citizens: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” That request came after the newly elected president painted a picture of the grave situation facing the country, and the need to band together with allies, and against enemies.
Fast forward 52 years to a more recent example of a request to band together – albeit not nearly as grave, but a request nonetheless. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! has recently asked that all “Yahoos” return to the office, banning the flexible work-from-home environment in place at the company today. The request came in a 246-word memo emailed to employees from the HR department.
The request was met with a lot of outrage – both internally and externally – and has sparked a nationwide debate on the merits of flexible work arrangements.
To be clear, this post is not about whether or not the decision to ban telecommuting was the right one for Yahoo!, or any other company. Rather, it’s about making sure you don’t become the target of unintended consequences through your messages.
When you have an announcement to make – whether internal or external – ask yourself the following questions:
- What do you want people to feel when they hear the news? If an internal announcement, do you want your employees to feel pride about working for your company? Inspired to deliver great results?
- What action do you want them to take? If it’s an external news announcement, would you like to garner media coverage, increase customers or drive traffic to your website?
- And most importantly, what do you want the headline to be? Whether the announcement is for your employees or the public, write down the headline you’d like to inspire. Then fill in the message.
Once you have a better sense of what you’d like to say, follow these tips:
- Get feedback. A fresh perspective can mean the difference between applause and backlash. Bring in a third party or trusted advisor on which to test the message.
- Sleep on it. If time allows, get the message ready to send, and then step back and sleep on it. Then read it again.
- Provide context. If the message is a difficult one, such as banning telecommuting, provide the context for why you are making that decision. If it’s because your employees are integral to your success – and therefore you want more of them – tell them so. Make them feel as though their time, creativity and expertise are valued. If it is an external announcement, make sure the announcement makes sense to the audience it is intended for, as well as the wider industry. If you are introducing a new concept to the market, explain the reason for doing so in easy-to-understand and digest soundbites.
- Consult your strategy. Does this announcement support your overall company strategy? If you are looking to create a new market segment, does the suggested positioning lend itself to that end goal? If you are trying to re-build your company’s reputation, will this message help or hurt?
Whether it’s a press release, a tweet, a media interview, a speech or a company memo, remember how you say it is often more important than what you say. And in today’s real-time feedback world, your message is one of the most important – and controllable – tools you have.
Looking to wrap these tips into your PR strategy? Check out Tina Cassidy’s blog post5 PR Lessons from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.