Wise communicators know there's brilliance in simplicity

Whether crafting a brand tagline or a political platform, communicators have long relied on the power of a simple message.

Whether crafting a brand tagline or a political platform, communicators have long relied on the power of a simple message. From John F. Kennedy's "A time for greatness," to Bill Clinton's "It's the economy, stupid," to McDonald's "I'm lovin' it," these messages very quickly grasped the issues and even demonstrate the vulnerabilities of their times.

For every successful message point, though, there are dozens more that failed on clumsy wording or overdone communications. "If we can't understand you, we will tune you out," is the message back from stakeholders like the media and the public. There are still numerous times where I receive a press release with the point buried in the third paragraph or I'm left wondering what they are trying to say altogether.

Yet there's no need to dumb down your message in order to resonate. Sometimes communicators make this mistake. The better tactic, I believe, is to lead with a succinct, simple message, backed up by comprehensive, compelling content.

As I write this just prior to lunchtime, I find myself repeating a phrase I learned from an author I believe to be one of today's more astute communicators and a master of the sound bite: food activist Michael Pollan. The line is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." This I can understand quickly and easily, but I also know that Pollan has a number of books and years of experience to back this statement up and to elaborate on it. In a day where our collective health is on the minds of everyone from politicians to our families and employers, this simple message is a coup.

Though I've read Pollan's books before, such as The Omnivore's Dilemma, I was recently reminded of this phrase while reading a New York Times review of his latest book, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. The title alone encapsulates the strategy behind a perfect message. Throughout the Times article, the reviewer plucks out equally compelling and succinct phrases that stayed in my conscience, like: "If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't." (The review quickly made it to the Times' "most e-mailed" articles list.)

Looking over this issue of PRWeek, it's apparent that a number of industries are employing the tactic of the simple but multifaceted message, such as green marketing, while other industries, such as the banking community, still have much to learn.

Rose Gordon is the news editor of PRWeek. She can be contacted at rose.gordon@prweek.com.

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