Selecting The Right Corporate Spokesperson
We’ve all been there, cringing as we observe an inarticulate, insincere, insensitive and, on occasion, incompetent executive speaking on behalf of a company. It is truly painful to watch. Today, with so many channels of communication at our disposal, why is it that this one key position – the company spokesperson – continues to challenge even the most media-savvy organization? Why is it that this critical role, which has the potential to leave positive and/or negative impressions that can affect a company’s reputation for years, often turns out to be a stumbling block?
Identifying those within your organization who should represent you to the media and other key stakeholder groups is no easy task. While no set formula is guaranteed to ensure success in every instance, there are certain guidelines that can aid you in tapping those best qualified to serve as spokespersons for your organization. Remember, the spokesperson serves as the public image of your organization; he/she must be able to clearly and concisely communicate critical information about you to the public, as well as convey your goals and values. Spokespersons are the public face of your organization and as such, play an important role in maintaining and preserving the reputation of your brand.
Knowledgeable, Credible and Accessible
As the public image of your organization, spokespersons must possess broad, wide-ranging knowledge about current events and issues in the news, as well as about the company, its policies, services, products, etc. This allows them to speak on behalf of a company accurately and with credibility and authority.
Accessibility is key. When reporters reach out, or your company is thrust into the public eye, you must be able to respond as soon as possible; even one hour may be too late. Failing to respond in a timely manner can result in a missed opportunity to control a situation, clarify facts, correct misinformation and articulate your position. Backup spokespersons should be in place ready to quickly step in when needed. All spokespersons must be willing to be on-call 24/7, 52 weeks a year. In fact, most multi-national corporations have rotating spokesperson roles, so that they can respond to inquiries/situations at any time throughout their organization.
For many companies, the CEO may be the ideal spokesperson, and in specific situations, only the CEO should serve as the spokesperson. However, most day-do-day operations call for an individual who is more accessible, and often more in touch with the technical, regional and operational aspects of the subject matter.
In certain instances, it will be necessary to identify individuals within your organization to serve as subject experts. These experts can provide specialized knowledge you may need to access on a frequent or infrequent basis. They should be identified within your organization, provided media training and available to speak to their expertise should the need arise.
Chosen carefully, expertly trained and readily accessible when needed, effective spokespersons can be a great asset to a corporation by reinforcing its positive public image, strengthening its brand and even boosting its bottom line.
Articulate, Nimble and Amenable
Spokespersons should have a good grasp of the language, possess excellent communication skills and, in many instances, be bilingual. They should be able to “think on their feet” and quickly adapt to changes in a situation. They must be comfortable in the role and able to speak with assurance in various settings on numerous topics, whether in one-on-one meetings with reporters, on the phone, in a public meeting or at press conference. Perhaps more important than speaking skills, keen listening skills will ensure the spokesperson responds to what has been asked, and not what the nervous interviewee fears will be asked.
Sincere and Sensitive
Many times a spokesperson must address a situation that is the result of a negative action by the company or an individual associated with the company. In these instances it is imperative that the spokesperson be able to speak with sincerity and sensitivity to the situation. The ability to show concern is essential, even when all critical information is not available. If your subject matter expert is easily riled, the spokesperson role is not for him or her.
Practice makes perfect. Every spokesperson from the CEO down should be required to go through media training. This includes role-playing different possible scenarios, drilling on key messages and taped mock interviews. This training allows spokespersons to identify areas of strength, areas that may need improvement and receive valuable constructive criticism. Expert media training gives spokespersons the tools they need to succeed in the role. Media training should be an ongoing program to ensure that spokespersons are kept up-to-date on key issues and continue to refine their media expertise.
Ward has trained hundreds of spokespeople to deliver quotable messages via print, broadcast, wire and online media outlets in executive and group sessions, which may be customized to your particular situation. Contact us today to start a conversation with a public relations specialist.