Work group plans to frame key messages in a campaign.

How to frame key messages in PR and communications

Knowing how to effectively frame key messages is a vital skill that will help you to build your career. This article explains how to frame key messages in PR and professional communication on your career journey. Framing is about the choices we all make in what and how we communicate:

  • What we emphasize
  • How and what we explain
  • What we leave unsaid.

These choices matter. They affect the context in which people hear our message, what they understand we are communicating, and what they do in response.

“The science of knowing how to frame key messages helps us to be heard and understood. When we change the story and how we tell it, we can change the world,” says the US FrameWorks Institute.

The FrameWorks Institute is a non-profit organization specializing in applying social science methods to study how people understand social issues – such as climate change, child and adolescent development, families, aging, economic and racial justice, education, health, government, housing, substance use and addiction – and how to best frame key messages to create highly effective communication.

Social science research consistently shows that people rely on mental shortcuts to make sense of issues affecting them. Some of these shortcuts are more helpful than others in how people see and support solutions. Unproductive communication will lead to unproductive ways of thinking, in which people take little notice of the points being made or they misinterpret the messages.

Fortunately, research in communication finds various shortcuts that effectively influence the thinking of others. This is the science of framing.

Framing principles apply to all key messages

Although the FrameWorks Institute specializes in social issues, framing principles apply in shaping key messages in all communication – and so PR and communication professionals can learn some of the best techniques for developing key messages. What’s more, if you have a communication role in government or in a nonprofit, the FrameWorks material can directly help you to become more effective in your work.

This article contains links from the FrameWorks website to enable you to easily access short, no-cost video presentations about framing, plus a total of 19 easily readable articles about various aspects of framing. This selection of 19 articles is from the total of 580 articles – yes, 580 articles! – published in the FrameWorks website. I have saved you the trouble of trawling through them to find what I consider to be the most relevant articles for PR and communication professionals.

In reading and absorbing the main points from the content in this article, you will be gaining invaluable knowledge about this crucial aspect of influential communication.

Key Messaging Video Resources

  1. Introduction. Welcome to Fast Frames! 1:12 mins
  1. Fast Frames – Episode 1. Solutions-oriented framing. 1:31 mins
  1. Fast Frames – Episode 2. Framing data. 1:46 mins
  1. Fast Frames – Episode 3. Alternatives to vulnerability framing. 1:44 mins
  1. Fast Frames – Episode 4. Use visuals to spark big-picture thinking. 1:32 mins
  1. Fast Frames – Episode 5. How to tell more effective stories about the success of your work. 1:50 mins

Helpful articles on key messaging

1. Tapping into the power of metaphors

Metaphorical language – which includes metaphors, similes, analogies, and other comparisons – is a powerful tool in social change communication. Metaphors that rely on everyday objects or experiences can help us introduce unfamiliar issues or explain complex ones.

2. Order matters

We have all heard that when it comes to effective communications, it’s not just what you say; it’s how you say it. But it turns out that when you say it is also important.

3. What’s in a frame?

Over twenty years, drawing insights from the social sciences and social movements, the FrameWorks Institute has created a list of a dozen significant framing decisions, or “frame elements.”

4. Five questions about framing

Framing is about the choices we make in what we say, how we say it, what we emphasize, and what we leave unsaid, and how these choices shape how people think, feel, and act.

5. Unleashing the power of How: An Explanation Declaration

The FrameWorks Explanation Declaration lays out why explanation matters, points to the risks of narratives that lack explanation, and highlights explanatory tools and techniques.

6. Five framing tips: Framing for social change

How can we frame communications so that they drive social change? This question underlies the work that the FrameWorks Institute does every day as researchers and practitioners who support nonprofit organizations.

7. Framing and policy making

Policy making is traditionally depicted as a process that unfolds in neat, predictable stages. At each stage, the theory goes, policymakers use evidence, data, and reason to guide their actions. The reality of policy making, of course, is much more complex.

8. Framing stories for change

Not all stories work the way we think they do.

9. Six common framing habits we should all seek to break

What would it look like if we adopted a more evidence-based approach to talking about social issues? Among other things, we’d realize that a set of our communications practices should fall by the wayside. Here are six framing habits that keep us from making space for productive public dialogue.

10. Framing during an economic downturn

An economic recession is a moment when change is inevitable – for better or for worse. We can use our communications power to shape this change.

11. The case for explanatory stories

In this feature article in Change Agent, FrameWorks founder Susan Nall Bales explains how explanatory stories “bend the narrative arc toward social justice.”

12. The storytelling power of numbers

He was in the midst of FrameWorks’ annual financial audit when our auditor remarked, “The spreadsheet is really boring. The numbers aren’t telling a story.” He proceeded to organize the numbers under topical headings, showing how much of our revenue and expense related to work on the environment, children and family issues, and so on. And suddenly, a meaningless array of numbers told a story about the organization’s priorities and accomplishments.

13. Six ways to change hearts and minds about climate change

This 12-page framing guide PDF outlines six tips to frame climate change to improve public understanding and inspire action. The guide translates research into practice, connecting a broad body of research to practical recommendations, and was produced in partnership with On Road Media and The Climate Change Collaboration. Published February 1, 2023

14. Communicating about the social implications of AI: A FrameWorks strategic brief

Artificial intelligence (AI): good or evil?

15. Mindset shifts: What are they? Why do they matter? How do they happen?

This report answers these questions and more. Published February 18, 2021

16. Strategies for effectively communicating about toxic stress

This Message Brief is designed to help frontline professionals to more effectively communicate the science of development with members of communities dealing disproportionately with economic and socio-cultural disadvantage.

Authors: Daniel Busso , Catasha Davis , Moira O’Neil. Published July 9, 2020.

17. Most of what we think works to change people’s behavior doesn’t. Here’s what does.

Author: Nat Kendall-Taylor. Published July 24, 2019. Name of publication: The Chronicle of Philanthropy

18. Facts in a ‘post-truth’ world

Do facts matter in a ‘post-truth’ world? We tend to think of this question in simple terms: They either do affect how people think and act—or they don’t. The truth is somewhere in between. Facts do matter and do have persuasive power—but only if they are well framed. FrameWorks CEO Nat Kendall-Taylor explains why.

Author: Nat Kendall-Taylor. Published April 4, 2017. Name of publication: Frank

19. Going beyond resonance

Today’s communications professionals prize resonance as a sign that their messages are “working,” but sometimes resonance backfires. FrameWorks CEO Nat Kendall-Taylor explains why and what messages really need in this commentary.

Author: Nat Kendall-Taylor. Published: June 16, 2017. Name of publication: Frank

Further reading

  • If you would like to find out more practical ways to frame key messages effectively, read my article, “How to use framing to communicate strong messages.”
  • Also, my ebooks on developing successful communication plans offer you many helpful, practical insights. Tremendous value – just like having your own comms coach immediately available by your side!

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

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