Note to PR Pros: Keep Your Key Messages Consistent

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Consistency in public relations is important. Public relations consultants and corporate executives are often told to “stay on message” and not to stray from a script. Companies and organizations put an enormous amount of time and energy into hammering home a consistent key messages, be it through public statements, advertising, or simple branding. Consistency gives comfort to people, and public relations professionals are charged with providing a comforting view of a company or client.

When a public relations strategy is inconsistent, trouble usually follows. We saw this in the 2004 presidential election, when Senator John Kerry was branded a “flip-flopper.” Ironically, his rival, President George W. Bush, has been roundly accused of being a flip-flopper himself. In the end, the inconsistency of both men’s messages caused not just confusion, but ill will, even from their most ardent supporters.

For companies, inconsistency can upset employees, customers, and shareholders. Ford Motor Company is a perfect example of a company that sent an inconsistent message, and in doing so, potentially alienated two very distinct demographic groups.

Several years ago, Ford came under pressure from the American Family Association, a conservative organization which at the time owned over 200 radio stations and claimed more than 3 million members. The American Family Association threatened to boycott Ford because of the company’s support for gay-related organizations, its willingness to advertise in gay-focused publications, and its policy to extend partner benefits to gay employees. Ford capitulated later in the year, pulling ads from gay-focused publications. Gay and lesbian groups fired back, accusing Ford of bowing to pressure.

Ford quickly changed its mind. The company not only said it would continue to advertise in gay-focused publications, but that it would also expand its advertising themes. (Previously, the company only advertised certain car lines in the publications, but now it advertises its whole family of automobiles.) The gay and lesbian groups seemed placated, but the AFA was not.

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Ford’s blunder was, of course, sending an inconsistent message. The company was either a supporter of the gay and lesbian community, or it was not. There’s little middle-ground with such a issue once its brought to the public’s attention, and Ford’s flip-flop did not earn the company much in the way of praise from either side.

The idea of consistency must be appreciated internally as well. Organizations and companies that send mixed messages to employees run the danger of hurting productivity and morale. Inconsistent messages come in all shapes and forms, and some are more subtle than others.

For example, as part of my daily job, I research and investigate stock sales and purchases made by corporate executives. When I see a CEO or a board member selling stock at a company that is concurrently buying back its own shares, I’m getting a conflicting and inconsistent message. In other cases, such as when a company’s executives talk up a new strategy and then sell stock, the message is not just inconsistent, but the action is potentially illegal.

At my own company, we’re currently working on a new public relations strategy. I asked a co-worker recently for some feedback on some press materials I had put together. I got a response that caused me to write this column.

“The stuff looks good, but some of the key messages are inconsistent. Tighten it up and stay on message.”

Well said.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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