The content and delivery of the leadership message are dependent upon the audience's needs and expectations. Just as advertisers target their messages to specific demographic groups, e.g., young males 18 to 24 or women 21 to 48, leaders can target theirs to specific interest groups, e.g., managers, employees, customers, or suppliers. The heart of the message will remain consistent, but the point of view may differ. For example, a message to employees about a new product launch will describe both the product and the support the employees must deliver to the customers. A product launch message to a customer will concentrate on features and benefits and describe the support the customer will receive.
In shaping the message, consider these points:
Select the key influencers. Consider whom you want to reach first—those who can influence your message in a positive way. It may be appropriate to invite key members of the media for a preview of a new product or an inside look at an organizational initiative. This is a tried and true technique in public affairs circles as a means of creating buzz, i.e., excitement. At the same time, consider those who can adversely affect your message. It is appropriate to give them an inside briefing, too, so that you can address any potential negatives and defuse any negative reactions prior to general release of the message.
Target the message. Adjust the content of the message to the audience you wish to reach. Sometimes the same message will be appropriate for all employees at all levels of the organization, and in this case everyone will receive the same content. It is often a good idea, however, to alert senior management to the message and even send them a prerelease message along with suggestions as to what kind of reaction they should expect from their people when the message is delivered. In this way, you gain buy-in of the leadership message and create a greater sense of shared destiny. All of us, no matter who we are, appreciate inside information because it makes us feel special and more in the know.
Reiteration is good. People need to hear the message over and over again—once is not enough. Just as you repeat messages with different media, you repeat messages to the same audiences. You can tweak the content to keep it fresh, but it is essential for the leader to repeat the core themes over and over again. Repetition does two things: It increases the likelihood of retention, and it demonstrates importance. In particular, reiteration of a message underscores a leader's consistency, which leads directly to credibility.
Keep the big picture in mind. Targeting and audience selection are important, but it is also important that you keep the whole story in front of you. It is essential that you make certain that everyone is getting the same big picture message. The leader must ask him- or herself periodically whether key constituents have the information they need in order to do their jobs and have confidence in the leadership of the organization. People do not need—nor do they want—to know everything about everything. But they do need to feel that the communications they are receiving is accurate, honest, and truthful. If it is helping to strengthen the bond of trust between leader and follower as well as to drive results, then the communications is appropriate.