A monsters theme made “Michael Jackson’s Thriller” one of the most influential and successful pop music videos of all time. Q. Our organization is planning its first annual report, and our CEO has asked us to come up with a theme. We don’t know where to start.

A. Creating a theme for a report, publication or marketing campaign is a lot like planning a Halloween party. You start with a concept – Monsters! for example – then you brainstorm, listing whatever comes to mind when you think about the concept: ghouls, goblins, ghosts, politicians! Then you think about decorations – the visuals. Finally, you think of a catch phrase for the headline on your party invitation to get people excited.

In business, a theme enhances or advances your message, but it is not the message itself. It is an organizing concept or metaphor that ties together and extends your message.

A good way to start is to travel back to poetry lessons in elementary school and come up with a metaphor or simile that connects to your message. Compare it to other things or activities: “Our goal is like a ______.” “We are smart as a ______.” There are no wrong answers at this stage, so let your imagination run wild (the wilder the better).

Next think visually. What images come to mind when you think about your metaphor or simile? If your message is about children, what children’s scenes do you see in your head? If your organization is about being active, what activities connect with that? TV ads use metaphors to make connections all the time: Coke promotes togetherness with scenes of family gatherings; Budweiser celebrates tradition with its iconic Clydesdale horses.

The last step – and perhaps the hardest – is to think of a catch phrase that captures your message. “Just Do It” is famous. So are “Got Milk?” “Ram Tough” and “I’m Lovin’ It.” The phase must be brief – a few words. And it must always, always be positive.

Share This