What is a Message House?

A Message House is a method for increasing messaging discipline within your team. A Message House consists of an outline of a house with messages inside. Simply tell your internal stakeholders (salespersons, fundraisers, etc.) to “stay inside the Message House” when communicating about their project or organization.

Is a Message House the only communications document I need?

Think of your Message House as the foundation for all your other communications materials, such as FAQs, proof points, Q&As, fact sheets, etc. All of them derive from the core that is your Message House. Your Message House is not your only communications tool. But it’s the most important one, and the one you create first.

Do you need different Message Houses for different audiences?

In some situations you may need different Message Houses for different audiences. Communication is dependent on the audience you’re trying to reach and move. Just think of the “utility” message. Different audiences may have different forms of self interest. Also, the same call to action may not work for all audiences. Always be clear on what audience you have in mind when you develop your Message House. In practice you may find that it is often sufficient to have only one Message House – but do first consider your audiences.

Do I have to use the messages verbatim?

You may often end up using the messages verbatim, but it’s important that you first consider adjusting your choice of words to each situation. A speech is different from a Tweet or a blog post. Think of the messages inside the Message House setting your general direction, but not always your exact words. Also keep in mind that you may need different Message Houses for different audiences (see the FAQ item above).

Are there many different Message Houses?

It is advisable to have Message Houses to focus the messaging for your organization as a whole, for events, for a media interview, for a crisis, etc. In short, a Message House should be created for anything important that effective communication will help succeed. Even shorter: use them for anything important.

What if someone says a Message House is too simple?

For effective communication it is essential to make your message simple. However, Message Houses are not the only tools to be used in communications. You may also need fact sheets, q&a’s, proof points, etc. But your Message House should inform all these other documents.

Do you ever change a Message House?

Message houses are not written in stone. As a matter of fact, making a habit of using Message Houses will almost automatically cause you to revisit them and rethink the messaging as a project evolves.

Does it matter whether a Message House is created by a team?

Good Message Houses are almost always created by a team. As a matter of fact, the four basic questions that make up a Message House provide an useful and fun way of structuring a team conversation. It’s amazing how they almost always produce productive results.

Does it matter in what order you use key messages?

It usually makes sense to end with the call to action, and to begin with the “What’s the big picture” message to set the stage and prep an audience emotionally (remember, ideally that message will induce goosebumps). However, there may be situations where the “utility” or the “critics” message make better leads. Just rely on your common sense.

Are Message Houses for everyone in the company?

It’s a good idea to create a central repository of Message Houses that anyone in your company knows about and can access easily. An Intranet might be a good place for it. Certain Message Houses might be confidential and not for everyone in the company. Others, like the Message House for the company as a whole, are for everyone. You might even want to encourage staff to print them out and put them up on a wall inside their office or cubicle.

How do you present a Message House to a new client?

Whether it’s colleagues whom you want to get to use a Message House, or a client of yours — simply show them a print-out, and begin by saying something like “if we stay inside this house, we’ll bring our message home” (or, if you deal with a person who’s a bit anxious about communication, you can say something like “If we’ll stay inside this Message House, we’ll be safe”). It’s important to begin the conversation by pointing out the house. Its concreteness will catch everyone’s attention. It also offers you the opportunity of beginning the conversation with an emotional and visual concept. Then explain the function of the different messages.

Does a Message House need to stay confidential and internal?

A Message house is usually an internal document. Sometimes it makes sense to share it with a reporter, if sharing your internal messaging effort will help convey your seriousness about your messages or nurture your relationship. However, only share it if you will be comfortable with the reporter’s possibly mentioning your internal Message House use in his or her story. You never want to share a Message House if this might cause you to be perceived as manipulative. A Message House is not a public news release.

Did you invent the Message House method?

Absolutely not. Marc Fest first heard about the method from a consultant while working at Knight Foundation. He used it to transform communications at Knight. He also added some twists, such as the simpler “single room” message house. After Marc left Knight Foundation to launch his own consulting company, Atlantic Point, he created this site to distribute the Message House tools for free because he believed that they could make a positive difference for nonprofit, for-profit and governmental organizations worldwide.