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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Messaging Makeover

Print journalism students and greenhorn writers learn pretty early that the right “angle” is frequently as important to the newsworthiness and appeal of a story as the polish of the prose.

Since retiring my notebook and No. 2, I’ve learned the same is true of outreach. It isn’t easy to make emergency preparedness messaging captivating. I mean, we’re not talking sensationalized tabloid fodder or Hollywood rumor.

People have short attention spans. They lose interest in recycled language and can grow apathetic to too often used buzzwords and catchphrases. Perhaps more likely, actionable adages like “Make a Plan,” “Build a Kit” and “Be Informed,” get lost in the torrent of information that people are exposed to daily via texting, social networking, etc.

The clear challenge is to find ways of rejuvenating stock and standard messages. It’s the difference in having a slice of apple pie or apple pie ala mode; the former is no slouch, but the latter is far more tantalizing and tasty.

An example of success in this endeavor is the American Red Cross – Bay Area Chapter, which has given routine and topical emergency preparedness messages a renaissance with a six-part animated series titled The Roommates.
A touch off-beat (I mean that in the best way possible) and delightfully tongue-in-cheek, think of The Roommates as an animated reality show starring wonderfully unusual characters like a business-casual robot named Nathaniel, a bungling wizard and a ninja called Alec.
Whereas the characters are eccentric, the essence of underlying messages is pulled straight from the disaster readiness playbook. Each short tackles a topic wholly linked to all-hazard individual and family emergency preparedness. Most conclude with an interactive question and answer session and the electronic receipt of additional preparedness information.
At the end of the “Make a Plan” sketch, viewers are asked to provide the name and phone number of an out-of-area and local contact, and identify immediate and nearby family meeting places. The responses are then collated into a wallet card that can be sent to your email.
The packaging and delivery of emergency preparedness messages like the taglines of your favorite brands will change, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. What's important, is that the the information be simple, actionable and accurate.
So let’s appreciate the imagination and gusto that goes into creating something original that champions emergency preparedness and raises the bar for the rest of us.

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