Establishing an organizational spokesperson is one of the first steps in creating an effective PR strategy.
The right representative can enhance an organization’s image and reputation by providing a face to the company, humanizing the brand, and demonstrating the depth and strength of leadership.
This decision should not be taken lightly. For most brands, there is not a “one size fits all” model, and choosing the ideal spokesperson means first making a thorough examination of your organization’s needs:
How often is your organization seeking media opportunities or addressing the press?
If quite frequently, choose one or a few individuals whose schedule permits a short interview turnaround.
What is your media strategy?
An organization’s public relations plan can have multiple objectives. Are you seeking to build a reputation as a thought leader? Could your brand benefit from seeming more approachable or in touch with its target audience? Is your primary goal to address controversial topics or tie in to spot news? Is your outreach focused on a particular region?
Each of these examples involves very different media conversations. Given that the content and tone differs with each message, an organization balancing multiple media strategies might benefit the most from having several spokespeople that are ultimately coordinated and chosen by a central communications manager.
Are your spokespeople adequately prepared?
Regardless of media goals or the number of spokespeople utilized, the most important step is ensuring these representatives are properly trained on how to deliver key messages. Even when pressed by the media, a spokesperson must remain calm and offer measured responses to controversial questions. Though successful spokespeople are more conversational and do not sound rehearsed, they also outline and organize their points beforehand to ensure they incorporate their key messages.
Excellent spokespeople also use techniques such as bridging and flagging to help order and highlight points in the conversation. When a reporter asks an unexpected question or one that does not allow the spokesperson to seamlessly integrate messaging, bridging helps the representative to address the question and then move to what he or she wants to discuss. For example, “That’s an interesting question; let me remind you, though…”
Flagging allows the spokesperson to emphasize a particularly important point and grab the reporter’s attention. One such lead-in for flagging is, “The three most important things you need to take away from this are…”
Regardless of the length of an interview, most sources are given only one to four sentences in an article, so a topnotch spokesperson is trained to answer in sound bites that are crisply worded, grammatically correct, and can stand on their own.
Learning from a big brand’s media relations is another way to sharpen a media spokesperson’s skills. Despite having issues with NBA Commissioner David Stern over the years, perhaps no single sports franchise owner—besides George Steinbrenner—has attracted more attention to his organization than Mark Cuban has. During his reign as owner of the Dallas Mavericks, he has lifted a once dreadful NBA franchise into a perennial winner, ultimately attracting greater talents and fans by being outspoken and “real.”
Arianna Huffington, who is chair, president, and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group, is another example of a proactive organizational spokesperson. As founder of The Huffington Post
, she certainly understands how the media works, but she also recognizes the unique niche her publication occupies. By being accessible, vocal, approachable, and outspoken on a variety of topics, Huffington reflects her brand’s strongest qualities.
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Not every company chooses the perfect spokesperson the first time around. Although Facebook may have been attempting to replicate the success of the single spokesperson—a la Steve Jobs and Bill Gates—Mark Zuckerberg has continually struggled with likeability and reputation management, especially after the 2010 movie “The Social Network,” which chronicled the founding of Facebook. Although Zuckerberg still largely handles new product announcements, others in the organization, such as COO Sheryl Sandberg, have upped their media presence, perhaps to balance personalities and expand the identity of Facebook’s leadership.
Former British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward is another example of a spokesperson who missed the mark in his company’s time of crisis. As mentioned in an earlier PeRceptions post, “Roughing the Passer, How Leaders Should Handle the Hard Questions
,” Hayward gained an infamous reputation after his unsympathetic responses following the company’s mammoth oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Although company mistakes can be particularly stressful, a damaging response can quickly go viral and devastate the brand and spokesperson’s reputation.
As quickly as a good spokesperson can positively improve brand image, an ill-prepared, ill-chosen spokesperson can damage your reputation overnight.
Mike Rieman is an account supervisor at Cookerly Public Relations with more than a decade of experience in public relations, newspapers, radio, and television. To read more from Mike and his colleagues, visit the agency's blog, or connect with Cookerly on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.