Chrissy Faessen, Principal at ConwayStrategic, shares the methods she uses with clients to develop strategic and authentic messaging. Chrissy also explains how she connects with reporters through email and social media and discusses developing visibility opportunities during tight news cycles for her healthcare clients.
DOUG: So, Chrissy, what is the number one challenge nonprofits are facing when they’re trying to get their message out?
CHRISSY: Being an expert without getting into the weeds with their messages. So, we consistently work with our clients to talk about how to simplify that message into something that’s understandable for the audiences that they’re talking to.
DOUG: In your role, I guess you’re sort of a gardener trying to weed out the stuff that they shouldn’t be saying. What are some of the approaches that you take to doing that? I know you suggest simplifying. Is it almost reworking it yourself? What are best practices to try and get that accomplished?
CHRISSY: Yeah, we spent a lot of time with the message triangle and really thinking about what are the pillars to the message framework for the issue that we’re working on. So really coming to a centralized message and then having the pillars kind of pull-out from there, encouraging them to use a lot of metaphors. How can they bring storytelling into the conversation and thinking about memorable ways that they can bring their message to life that really helps the audience or the reporter in some cases understand what the issues about.
DOUG: One of the challenges is you don’t want to overstuff them with message points because you want to make it sound natural. Any advice on how to do that?
CHRISSY: You want it to sound authentic, too, right? So, one of the things we always tell our clients and when we’re thinking about message development is really starting with the values and not going right into the weeds. You know, we work on a lot of policy issues, too, for the nonprofit clients that we’re talking about, and you can really quickly get into the weeds with policy talk. And so, pulling that back out and really thinking about what is the value, what are the core values and the bigger vision of what you’re trying to communicate. And starting there, before you get into the details of statistics or policy change that you’re looking to see.
DOUG: And this is always a debated point. Is it possible for communicators to take control of the media narrative? That’s pretty challenging in this environment when you’re just trying to break through.
CHRISSY: There’s definitely an opportunity there. Mean one of the things that we talk about in terms of taking control of the narrative is getting ahead of the narrative, right? So how do we start laying that groundwork and get ahead of it before we’re having to be reactive in a responsive mode? So that’s one of our goals when we’re communicating about anything is really getting ahead of it.
DOUG: And you also work a lot in the healthcare space and sometimes say in the period, you know, when treatments aren’t necessarily approved yet, maybe they’re on the road there. How do you play the long game and keep the interest going when sometimes things take years?
CHRISSY: So, when we think about various processes or processes to bring products either over the counter or to get a new device maybe approved by the FDA in the healthcare space, there’s various moments that we can pinpoint to use it as a visibility moment. So, whether that be fundraising, a lot of groups are, you know, having different fundraising goals in terms of getting the money that they need to go forward. So, we use that as moments. There’s different research. So, whether that’s clinical trials have started, or they’ve got initial results from clinical trials, sometimes it’s an FDA submission. So, using all of these various moments throughout the process as really a moment to educate reporters, to start to bring them along in this journey for ultimately what we want to communicate once that therapy or that medication is available.
DOUG: And to be able to educate, you need to have a relationship, I would assume. And that’s one of the tough things, especially for people who are new in the earned media and outreach area, to try and build those relationships. What are some of the things that you do in your team does to build relationships, keep them strong?
CHRISSY: It’s a great question and think it’s certainly evolved since Covid, right? You know, historically, we used to go have coffee with reporters and when you were at a conference, you used to find people in that area. That doesn’t happen so much anymore. And so, a lot of it is done online. One of the things that our team really focuses on is reading the work of these reporters and their stories. And so, reaching out and having conversations with reporters about maybe a piece that they wrote in this morning’s paper or online and whether it directly relates to our issue or not, it really shows that we’re interested we’re interested in the type of stories they’re writing and their work. So really trying to create the relationship that way and not just make it an ask when we need something.
DOUG: Part of it is that just reporters are people, too. Not everyone agrees with that. You know, if you’re just sending the same piece that could be sent to anyone on your list, to everyone on your list, it’s probably going to be pretty challenging for you.
CHRISSY: The traditional press release is not something we use a lot anymore. Most of the communication that we have with reporters are really tailored emails that say, hey, I saw you wrote about this, or you interviewed this individual, thought you might be interested in the concept of X, Y or Z. Right? So, a lot of the work that we do is tailored. Some of it happens on social media where there’s a direct message sent or where we’re, you know, sharing a thread that one of our clients had written on X and then getting it to the reporter. So, there’s lots of different ways. Again, it’s really being invested in what that what that reporter is interested in and what they’re looking to communicate and how we can be helpful to them.
DOUG: I don’t know if this will come as a shock to many of the people on the agency side who are watching this, but there might be maybe an occasion or so where a client doesn’t come to you with a fully ready to go news piece that is visuals that’s breaking, that’s interesting, that relates to the zeitgeist that’s out there. So, what do you do when a client doesn’t necessarily have something newsworthy, but they want to be in the news?
CHRISSY: We create our own news, right? We create our own newsworthy moments for some of the clients that we work with. For example, we work on the issue of contraception. And one of the coalitions we work with was looking to raise visibility about a birth control pill coming over the counter, which we now have. But, you know, five years ago we were thinking about what are ways that we can continue to educate reporters and raise visibility, that this this could be the future right, in a not so long period of time. So, working with the client, we created what we call Free the Pill Day. And it was May 9th, the day that the FDA approved the birth control pill as a prescription product in the United States 60 years ago. And now every May 9th, we celebrate Free the Pill Day, and it just becomes a real organizing moment for the movement. It gives us a chance to reach out to reporters to educate them on the history of the pills approval and where we’re headed in terms of contraceptive access in this country. So that’s one way kind of creating those newsworthy events, if you will, that organizing can take place around, and that we also think a lot about repackaging data, right? There’s a lot of research in data out there, and sometimes it just comes down to repackaging that in different ways, whether that’s a fact sheet or a research brief, but thinking about how to repackage that in a way to reshare it and garner interest.
DOUG: It’s a really great suggestions and kudos to you on the important work you’re doing on these issues, but that does raise a point. I mean, I know from us doing the satellite tours work we’re doing, it was always great news when we could work with a non-profit because the media used to view them differently. It was definitely more open, more welcoming. So that’s really changed as everything has gotten more political. And there’s tension even from the great work that nonprofit, like your clients you work with, are doing and others. How do you navigate that challenge that so much that seems like great news to a group of people seems like horrific news to other people. How do you navigate that?
CHRISSY: We certainly work on some sensitive issues that some may consider sensitive issues and there’s definitely an opposition out there that is not supportive. Right. And I think one of the things that we talk a lot about and we educate reporters about is ensuring that they’re able to talk to experts. Right. Who are experts within the space, whether that be OBGYN or family practice docs or really putting them in touch with experts who can speak to the issue in an educated way, ensuring that the research and the data that they’re citing is from peer reviewed journals. A lot of times, you know, nowadays in terms of where people get their news, some of those journals are not peer reviewed and we encourage them and share information about where they can get solid data sources. And then, you know, when it comes down to responding to opposition claims, we really, you know, work closely with our clients and advise them on when it’s not going to be beneficial to go head-to-head, whether that be on a broadcast program or on a podcast, going head to head with somebody who you’re never going to agree with at the heart of the issue is not always the best strategy. And so if we really think deeply about the platforms in which we put our clients in front of to ensure that they’re going to at least be able to be heard, not everyone always has to agree with the message that they’re putting out there, but is it a platform that allows them to be able to share data in a in a respectful way and share their voice in a respectful way?
DOUG: Well, I hope our audience will agree and take the advice that you have given them, because it’s been great to talk to you. Thanks so much.
CHRISSY: Thank you. Thank you for having me.