Talking points & emergency messaging

Key messages and talking points should be developed as part of your preparedness plan and updated immediately with relevant details about the current emergency. They enable CARE staff and spokespeople to respond to media enquiries and use consistent messaging.

CARE’s messaging should paint a dignified picture of disaster survivors. After all, they are survivors, not victims. Women and girls from within the affected communities are often the first to respond to their own situation: they are resilient and resourceful, not hopeless; highlight their strengths.

Talking point documents should provide the top 3 main key messages during a given humanitarian emergency; what happened, how it is affecting women and girls, and the ‘ask’ – what we want people to do.

Messaging should emphasise the impact on women and girls, as well as the role they play in response, and should focus on the needs and CARE response. Your key messages will provide the foundation for all your communications and should be:

  • short and to the point
  • simple, “big picture” statements
  • appealing to a global and diverse audience
  • focused on women and girls and other excluded groups
  • mention CARE work (current and past)
  • where appropriate: contain key advocacy asks and messages of donors, international community or other actors
  • stored internally for all CARE International staff use only. CARE stores all emergency documents on CAREShares here

Q&As

Talking points should also include a Q&A section so that CARE staff are provided with set of likely questions that journalists and donors may ask. They are vital during complex emergencies with political or ethnic conflict, or where incorrect messaging could have a severe impact on our staff, programmes or the people we support.

Often communicators will need to work with their advocacy counterpart to develop the Q&A. Carefully chosen words or phrases should be used to help spokespeople navigate complex media questioning. As with key messages, Q&As should be used as guidance for internal audiences rather than given to media contacts. Q&As should also include a reactive section with likely ‘tricky’ questions that may be asked and carefully formulated and signed off responses to help spokespeople avoid potential harm to CARE or the people we work with.

It is the responsibility of the Emergency Communications Officer (with support of CEG Communications and Lead Member) to upload all communications materials to CAREShares as well as sharing with the relevant CARE International email distribution lists.

Characteristics of strong messaging

  • New information. If it’s not new, it’s not news. At the scene of an emergency we need to have a new message each day to provide to reporters, but it needs to be something that the reporter has not heard before from CARE International or from other organisations.
  • Clear and unambiguous. Spokespeople have just a few seconds to get the message across, so make it count.
  • People focused. People care about people, not things or organisations. All CARE International messages must be people based. Use words like ‘children’, ‘families’, ‘mothers’ etc. as often as possible instead of more bureaucratic sounding labels like ‘programme participants’ or ‘households’. Do not use abbreviations.
  • Passionate. The message must have feeling and not sound like it comes from a cold detached robot. This is true not only in the development of messages, but also for delivery in an interview.
  • Memorable words and phrasing. Use language that will stick in people’s minds. Rather than ‘the mortality rate is 1.5 children per 100,000 per day’, calculate and translate it into some like ‘six children are dying every minute due to hunger’.

(Adapted from ‘Communicating in emergencies guidelines’ published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies)