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Goals of Key Messages

What are the most pressing issues for your audiences? It’s easy to lose sight of what the public wants to know most when you’re focused on what you want to say. For example, will the public care about what process you’re using to inspect food for foodborne illness if you haven't told them whether the food is safe to eat? Address the public’s concerns first by providing clear and accurate information. However, don't give false assurances. Be candid and honest about the situation.

Provide specific instructions on what people should do and under what circumstances they should do it.


  • “Prevent poisoning from carbon monoxide: Only use a generator outdoors and far from open windows and vents.”
  • “If flood or storm water has entered your home, dry it out as soon as possible to minimize structural damage and mold growth. Follow these steps…”

People are more likely to heed your guidance if you explain why it’s necessary or what the consequences will be. It seems like common sense, but we often overlook providing the reason for taking an action.

For example, during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, Public Health – Seattle & King County found that people were more willing to keep their sick children home when they were given a compelling reason why it was important.

Select a highlighted Explanation icon in the comic book excerpt below to find out how Public Health – Seattle & King County was able to convey key messages about the flu.

Comic Panel 1: Keeping Children & Teens Home with Flu This flu season, there may be more illness because of the new H1N1 flu virus (also known as “swine flu”). Be prepared to keep your children and teens home if they get sick.

Comic Panel 1 - Keeping Children & Teens Home with Flu…
Explanation Icon

Why it’s important to stay home with flu. When you’ve got the flu, you can pass it to others when you cough or sneeze. You are most contagious while you’ve got a fever AND also for the 24 hours after the fever has gone.

Comic Panel 2 -  A teen ill then healthy - Text - Most contagious: during fever and one day after fever is gone.

Some people are at much greater risk of serious health problems if they get the flu. Many people who are at higher risk look healthy.

Comic Panel 3 - Drawings of people at greater risk, e.g., young child, pregnant woman
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If you go to school or other gatherings when you are still spreading the virus, you will put others at risk.

Comic Panel 4 - drawing of a teenager coughing around other people

View the full comic

Messages build trust when they acknowledge how people are feeling, show candor, demonstrate a commitment to provide updates, and are consistent with messages from other trusted sources. For more information about trust and credibility, review the Fundamentals section.