5.4 Key Questions to Answer

Here are some key questions to be answered in this step of the message analysis process:

Whaddya Need? storefront

Mike Linksvayer on Flickr: Public Domain

Why has this topic or the need for this message come up?

What is the broad topic of interest? What product, service, event or issue at the center?

What are the possible “angles” of the topic that could be considered?

What must we know about the topic before beginning the information search?

Who would know about or have a perspective on the topic?

If you can clearly answer these questions, you’ll have a solid foundation for building your information strategy.

The communications objectives are different for journalists, advertising professionals, and public relations practitioners. So, too, is the information needed for each media professional to accomplish their message goals. Where a journalist may need to become an “instant expert” on a topic they will be covering, for the PR professional it may be more important to understand the prevailing opinions about the topic, and for the advertiser finding information that helps him understand the audience’s interests in the topic to determine the most appropriate “selling proposition” would be key.

Let’s look at an example of answering these content questions from each perspective.


Key Questions Scenario

There is an explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico resulting in a devastating oil spill affecting vast stretches of the Gulf Coast.

Journalism: Your editor tells you to work on a story about the repercussions of the oil spill. The general topic is “oil spill” or, to be more specific, this particular oil spill.

What might one of the angles be for this broad topic? Certainly the environmental issues being raised are one important angle. But even that is a broad topic that can be broken down into water quality, impact on birds, impact on fish, or impact on wetlands and beaches. If you picked economic issues as the angle there could be more specific focus on the economic impact on tourism or “Big Oil” companies or southern Louisiana fishermen.  Depending on the angle you pick you’d need to make sure you understand the terminology used by specialists and identify some of the kinds of people who would have an understanding of the topic.  These potential sources will be among the first stops on your path for seeking information.

Public Relations: You work in the PR department for the oil company which owns the rig. You would be concerned with understanding the groups of people with whom you need to communicate. You would want to launch your crisis communication plan if you had one. You would need to understand thoroughly the nature of the situation, what happened and why. You would need to identify the potential stakeholders that might be affected by the spill. You would have to find information about how other companies facing similar situations managed their communications. You would need to understand the actions the company is taking and be able to talk positively about them to the media.

Advertising: Your advertising agency is doing the ad campaign for the Department of Tourism for one of the states affected by the oil spill. The information you need could include what potential visitors’ concerns and fears are about the conditions in your state, actions the Department of Tourism is taking to minimize impacts on visitors, and the programs and plans tourism-related businesses are implementing to keep visitors coming.