Harnessing the Power of the Message
Perspectives > Blog Post

Harnessing the Power of the Message

February 27, 2013

Our issue management and communications staff cut their teeth in politics, where rapid reaction and compelling language determine the outcomes of elections and the success of legislation. We don’t just test communications, we create them – it’s what sets Kelton apart from virtually every other research firm in the nation. We’re a true strategic partner, helping our clients grasp the size and scope of issues, developing the pressure points that can change public opinion, developing potential communications, and extracting the most effective messages before you take your campaign public.

Our award winning focus group moderators and pollsters understand how to capture the essence of your audience’s sentiment and translate that into message platforms that improve your client’s public standing. We’ve done so for politicians and Fortune 500 companies; let us help your clients navigate through difficult times and develop Words that Work.

Focus Groups: Testing Messages With Your Specific Target 

Let’s say you produce a highly profitable and very visible consumable food product. You’re in just about every private kitchen pantry and restaurant in America and abroad.  You’re a staple of the food business and have enjoyed steady growth and predictable market share for the past four decades.

But one day, you find yourself the target of an enormous class action lawsuit claiming your product causes irreparable brain damage to pre-pubescent teens. The charges are scurrilous and would be considered absurd, but for their profound and immediate affect on your bottom-line: sales plummet overnight; your stock takes a 25% hit during furious trading; outraged parents picket schools with the aim of having your product expelled from cafeterias; and Congress issues a subpoena for you to appear before a special, televised, inquiry…at week’s end.

And, of course, the media encamps on your doorstep – at your corporate headquarters, as well as at your CEO’s private residence.

In other words, you are suddenly embroiled in one monster of a crisis, the likes of which could destroy your business. In short order. But you’ve prepared for crisis contingencies – although not on such a grand scale – and you quickly mobilize your legal and communications teams, commission a Kelton Flash Poll, and begin preparing for some Kelton crisis message development and dial testing sessions.

But who’s your primary audience or specific target here? Is it Moms, the ones most likely to make the vast majority of the food-purchasing decisions in American households? Is it opinion elites, the highly educated, politically active, and civically minded folks who are most likely to influence others by their actions? What about political appointees… investors… or public health officials? In this instance, we’d maintain that each of these audiences represents a core constituency for you, so we’d recruit and conduct focus groups with each distinct audience.

In the end, you would be equipped with resonate messages that appeal to all of your important constituencies individually and collectively…meaning you’re not going to earn credibility with one group while alienating another.

Message Dial Testing: The Right Words At The Time

Perhaps you’re facing legal sanction… or being maligned by a spirited rival… or are the target of a particularly demagogic politician… or your stock price has just recently suffered a significant “correction” in the market… and you’re being hounded by an enflamed and energetic media. Your initial efforts to assess and then manage the crisis should involve some swift diagnostic surveying of the potential scope of damage already done (such as a Flash Poll).

Once we’ve helped you determine exactly what challenges you’re facing, and from whom, we’ll address the specific messages you would want in your communications quiver as you engage in a proactive defense.

Correcting misconceptions. Projecting firm and honest resolve. Advancing the proper solutions.  All are important.  But the success of each is dependent upon the language you use. Words matter, and the specific words and phrases you employ must resonate with the audience you’re addressing. That’s not just a priority: That’s an imperative. Especially in times of crisis when it can mean the difference between perpetuating a problem and stopping it cold.

At Kelton, we appreciate the importance of getting it right the first time. And that’s the foundational principle that propels our crisis message testing methodology:

  • Veteran, Battle-Hardened Writers. Kelton’s writers have toiled in the trenches of some of the most contentious public policy battles of the past decade, and have guided numerous clients through the minefields of an emerging crisis.  We specialize in developing the most effective, resonant messages to be employed in short form (sound bites, bullet points, and ad content) and long form (Congressional testimony, public speeches, op-eds, and letters to shareholders).
  • Quantitative Measurement, Qualitative Setting. Kelton’s Instant-Response, hand-held dial technology will validate the effectiveness of your (Kelton-crafted) crisis messaging, regardless of which specific medium you decide to engage in.
  • Precise, Targeted Audience. These expanded, StreetSmart-recruited focus groups mirror the precise demographic and psychographic parameters you need.

Flash Polling: An Instant – and Well Analyzed – Snapshot

The New England Journal of Medicine publishes a study that questions the safety of a leading pharmaceutical manufacturer’s marquee product… “60 Minutes” devotes a solid 20 to a formerly internal company dispute at a well-respected retailer… A media hungry state Attorney General holds a press conference to publicly assail an energy company’s executive team and to announce a sweeping indictment of its three most senior individuals… the SEC levies a huge fine against the principal of a firm that bears that individual’s name, and the stock free-falls until the markets close that day. Each of these real world examples represents crises managed by the seasoned members of the Kelton Team.

At Kelton, we understand the necessity of addressing crises fast, firmly, and with well-informed confidence. The manner and speed of your response to a crisis will determine whether or not you are merely reacting to it, or managing it. We aggressively advocate you choose the latter option.

A Kelton Flash Poll is a logical first step to managing any potential crisis. Here’s why:

  • Speed. The Kelton team can conceive, draft, field, process and analyze a flash poll in 24 hours.
  • The Essentials. A Kelton flash poll is succinct, yet comprehensive in its focus. Drafted specifically to determine the breadth of the adverse media saturation, as well as the depth of fact comprehension and retention, the flash poll can assess initial damage and help determine where and how counter-messages will need to be deployed.
  • Precise and Targeted.  Need a read of the general population? Just likely voters in a particular zip code? How about working moms with children under 5? Or single fathers with an investment portfolio of more than $50K and a strong propensity for writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper? Kelton will ensure you reach whichever audience you wish to survey.
  • Foundational. Equipped with Flash Poll data, subsequent steps in the Crisis and Issues Management formula (Message Dial Testing, Focus Groups, and Public Opinion Polling) are that much more intuitive, efficient, and productive.
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