After defining communication objectives and target audiences, the next step in the development of a communication strategy is to determine key messages and calls to action to influence the attitudes, affect the behaviors, or increase the knowledge of the target audience. Key messages are the main messages that will be conveyed to your target audience. A call to action describes in a few words exactly what action is desired from the target audience and gives the audience specific advice for alternative behaviors.

Each key message should be short, memorable, and should include a benefit for the target audience to encourage them to alter their behavior. An effective message needs to be compelling to the target audience, and should not simply restate the communication goals. The message might be for the audience to engage in new actions (use fishing nets with larger mesh), or alternatively, to refrain from specific practices (e.g., stop dynamite fishing). Often, providing a specific action or alternative for what the target audience should do may be better received and lead to more behavior change.

Research ref has shown that target audiences respond better to messages that are:

  • Consistent: It is important that the message presented is not contradicted by other sources. Furthermore, all communication from the strategy should be consistent (i.e., it should have the same “look” and messages).
  • Simple and clear: Messages should present only one theme at a time. These types of messages are more effective at getting the message across and holding the attention of the target audience.
  • Personalized: Messages that show how a certain activity can affect and benefit target audiences personally are more powerful than those that concentrate on the general effects of an activity.
  • Communicated through various sources: People are exposed to different media and learn in different ways. There is a need to have different means of communicating the message (print, TV, radio, Internet, peers, etc). The target audience is more likely to absorb a message with increased exposure to the message. The target audience may also be more inclined to believe the message when it is repeated by different sources.

Once key messages and calls to action have been developed, it is important to consider pre-testing key messages and methods for specific target audiences.


Pretesting key messages and methods helps determine whether a message will be understood or effective for achieving the desired objectives. It is also used to understand the target audience’s trust in various communication methods and their response to proposed behavior change. Pre-testing can be done on a representative sample of the target audience through telephone or mail surveys. It can also be accomplished more simply by assembling a small group from the target audience and showing and discussing the communication tools with them. For example, a manager could gather a small group of fishers, show them a presentation or brochure, then take notes on the feedback from the group. By pretesting, the manager can adapt messages and methods if needed, and avoid mistakes and unexpected effects from communication.

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Last updated August 30, 2016

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