Publicists outnumber journalists 5:1.
What that number means is that there’s a lot of competition to reach the same sets of eyeballs. And that competition directly impacts your chances of reaching the person on the other side of your computer screen.
Your messaging needs to stand out, but the question is how. Even if you do your research, you may still be missing key details about the person you’re trying to reach. After all, people choose to share the details that they do online. Not to mention, journalists, as humans, have identities beyond the articles that they’re writing online.
One way to tackle this challenge is to conduct a messaging audit: a structured, end-to-end qualitative study in which you study your target audience’s pain points and needs. By the end of your messaging audit, you’ll have generated a clear set of findings that you can apply to your outbound PR campaigns. Your messaging will be more tailored to your readers, and you’ll be more confident that you’re communicating the right details in the right style.
Here’s a step by step guide to building your study, incorporating your results into your marketing strategy, and measuring performance.
What Is a Messaging Audit?
A messaging audit is an adaptation of established qualitative research techniques like grounded theory and product development strategies like customer development. At a high level, the goals of these techniques are to better incorporate the needs of your market into your business strategy.
In contrast to quantitative research, which uses data to summarize trends and patterns, qualitative techniques exist to illuminate in-depth stories and nuance. Like quantitative research, qualitative techniques are also tools to identify patterns.
Often, businesses use qualitative research as precursors to their quantitative approaches: customer interviews are necessary first steps to understanding what types of information companies should be collecting and how they can use those details to build statistical models. But qualitative research can also stand alone as a research and storytelling technique.
With a messaging audit, you use qualitative research to answer questions such as the following:
- In what ways is my messaging on point?
- In what ways is my messaging missing the mark?
- What are my audience’s pain points?
- What value propositions will capture my audience’s interests?
- What types of emails stand out to my audiences?
- What steps can I take to improve my messaging and communication.
Every messaging audit starts with a business question or set of business questions like the ones from the list above. While you conduct your messaging audit, you’ll use this direction to facilitate open-ended conversations with the people you’re interviewing.
Now let’s dive into the steps that you need to get started.
Step 1: Define the Goals of Your Messaging Audit
Don’t just conduct interviews for the sake of conducting interviews. Your messaging audit should have a clear objective. You may want to address gaps in outbound messaging for a campaign. You may want to improve the performance of an existing campaign. You may want to determine how to reach a particular segment in your contacts database.
Regardless of your approach, you should set up goals and success metrics that are defined, concrete, measurable, and impactful to your business. With respect to your PR campaigns, the KPIs you choose will be the metrics that you’re already measuring:
- Open rates
- Click-through rates on links within your email
- Read-throughs and completions
- Click-through rates (CTRs)
You won’t be measuring the results of your messaging audit itself. Rather, you’ll be using your messaging audit to come up with new campaign ideas to A/B test and to iterate on your process. Define your goals upfront so that your next steps, following your messaging audit, are actionable.
Step 2: Outline Your Interview Process
Once you define your research objective and business goal, take the time to decide who you want to interview and what questions you want to ask. This process is relatively straightforward:
- Define your ideal interviewee personas (in this case, these individuals will be the audiences you’re emailing)
- Create a list of questions for each persona
Example personas include journalists who write about tech, indie bloggers in particular verticals with certain readership thresholds, or editors at certain types of publications. Your interview questions should be tailored to each of these groups and designed to inspire dialogue. In other words, you don’t want to ask closed-ended yes/no questions: instead, you want to get people talking. Here are some examples of types of questions you can ask:
- What do you care about most in your work?
- Tell me about a really interesting email you received recently
- Tell me about a time that a journalist messaged you, and you didn’t find the message valuable.
One staple in your q&a repository should be “why?” Always press your interviewees to share more detail, and ask for elaboration. With qualitative research, the goal is to go deep (unlike quantitative research, in which the goal is to cast your net wide).
Step 3: Recruit Your Interviewees
Make sure that your interview panel is representative of your audience, based on the personas that you’ve referenced above. Ask for referrals, post a req on a job board, or send a few cold emails.
You’ll want to make sure that you have clear incentives in place, and you’ll want to be extra clear that the research you’re conducting is for research purposes. You’ll want to be extra careful to respect journalistic integrity and be extra clear about the fact that you do not expect your interviewees to write about you.
To be extra safe about who you message and how you frame your research project, you can recruit interviewees outside of your company’s industry: that way you can learn without feeling like you’re bribing your target audience.
Recruit interviewees based on the channels they’re likely to be browsing. You might consider running a paid channel campaign on Facebook or reaching out to prospective interviewees directly.
Be respectful, and offer a consulting fee for the person’s time. Offer to use a platform like Clarity.fm to add legitimacy to the process.
Step 4: Conduct Your Interview
Now comes the fun part. To conduct your interview, you’ll need the following:
- Video chat software or a phone-based conference line (if you don’t want to conduct your interviews in person)
- A tool to record your conversation
- A resource to transcribe your call once it’s complete (like a virtual assistant)
- Some kind of word processing tool (like Google Docs)
- A notebook to jot down your thoughts and observe your surroundings (if you’re conducting your research in person) as you’re conducting your interview
Ask your questions, have a conversation, and focus on the person with whom you’re speaking. Recording tools will help ensure that you are fully present and in the moment: if you’re too busy typing up notes, you may feel too distracted in your interview to truly pay attention.
If you’re conducting your interview in person, take notes on everything else you’re observing around you. Does your interviewee seem happy or sad? What’s interesting about your surroundings.
All of these details will be essential to your research process. After you conduct your interview, transcribe your recordings so that you can analyze your conversation from another perspective. Repeat this process for every single interview that you complete (even if you have hundreds of conversations, do not let this process slip through the cracks: it will be your notes that you connect back to your PR strategy and messaging).
Step 5: Analyze Findings and Report Back to Your Team
Now, you’ll complete your messaging puzzle.
Read through your interview transcripts, and highlight (literally, highlight) two things: everything that stands out to you as interesting and everything that seems like (or you expect to be) a pattern among your audience and customer base. Figure out why you might be observing these trends, and sanity check these findings with your data: piece together quantitative and qualitative information to understand the bigger picture.
Use the findings of your qualitative research to frame the direction of your messaging initiatives moving forward. Imagine that you’re actually speaking to the people you’ve interviewed: that’s why it will be so important to record your conversations and provide detailed notes about your interviewee (even if you obscure the names of the people who you’re talking to, to protect their anonymity).
Just as you would when you conduct customer research, you’ll want to include as many details about your interviewee’s personality in the reports that you share back with your team.
There you have it: it’s easier than you may have originally thought to conduct a messaging audit, isn’t it? You can get started with the process above and almost no resources–you don’t need any guidance to get started and add more value to the people you’re aiming to reach on the other side of the computer screen.