Build Your Own Message

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Communications Toolkit
Published: 2017

Introducing people to a new way of thinking about an issue requires a carefully considered message. The Opportunity Agenda helps you create that message with Vision, Values, and Voice: a Communications Toolkit, which provides guidance for building your own messages using our recommended Value, Problem, Solution, Action (VPSA) structure.


Our interactive VPSA message building tool below will guide you through the process. Ready? Get started below!

Build Your Own Message
Title Value Problem Solution Action Review

Title: Start Your Message

Before beginning your message construction, take a minute to consider a couple of things. First, who is this message is intended to activate? If you haven't already, take a look at the 'Identifying Audiences' section of the toolkit, which will help to guide your thinking about this important step. You might even consider reflecting your target audience in the title of your flashcard.

Second, consider the potential venues for this message. These flashcards have purposefully limited space. However, they can be the kernel for an eventual letter to the editor, op-ed, social media post, speech, etc. Think about the types of examples, supporting evidence, and tone you may need for each of these possibilities.

Value: Provide Some Inspiration

Stop a minute to think about why you do the work you do. What inspires you? Why do you want your target audiences to act or to change their minds? If you dig deep enough, you're likely to reach your core values. That's the place to start with your audiences. Research and experience show that shaping messages around core shared values can help people better hear new, unfamiliar, or even uncomfortable arguments. On the other hand, if we present only a litany of facts and rhetoric that conflict (or appear to conflict) with an audience’s core values, they will often disregard those facts completely. So, think through your own values, and the values you share with your target audiences.

If you're stuck, fear not! We've put together some ideas about how to frame and describe values.

Problem: Tell Them Why They Should Care

People are bombarded with problems every day. Why should they care about the one you're handing them? We suggest you frame your problem as a threat to the shared values you've just introduced. Tell audiences why they should care: because this problem violates the values we (as Americans, as people of faith, as residents of this state, as workers, etc) hold dear.

This is the place to include stories and statistics that are likely to resonate with your target audiences. Remember to choose these carefully, though! For instance, you'll want to make sure your individual stories point people to system-level solutions.

Read about how to tell stories in a broader context.

Solution: Show Them the Light at the End of the Tunnel

As we've said, people have a lot of problems to think about. If you've done a good job up to this point, you've given your audience a reason to care about yours. Do not leave them hanging there! Emphasize that this is a problem that you know how to solve. And that you need their help.

In framing your solution, think about how that solution will help to protect or restore the shared core values you've already introduced. Also important: assign responsibility—who can make solution happen?

Action: Tell Them What to Do

Here's the time to be a little bossy. What can this specific target audience do? Try to give them something concrete, something they can even picture themselves doing: making a phone call, sending an email. Steer clear of vague “learn more” messages, when possible.

Depending on the venue for your message, include a phone number or website. Or anything else that will steer them toward your desired goal: action!


You can update any part of your message by selecting “edit.”