Anatomy of a Media Spokesperson
September 15, 2015
Have you ever watched a TV interview and wondered why that person was chosen to act as the company spokesperson? Sometimes they just don’t seem to suit the part.
There are some basic requirements. Media spokespersons should be knowledgeable and articulate. Ideally, they’re also likeable. Would you want to go for a beer with this person? Beyond that, there are a few other things to consider.
Beware of skeletons.
This may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but spokespersons shouldn’t have closet skeletons. You wouldn’t want the media to discover something. It’s happened more than once that the spokesperson everyone thought was a lawyer was in fact disbarred. There have also been cases of spokespersons who were chosen based on a stellar resume that turned out to be complete fabrication. And, what if your national spokesperson pleads guilty to being a pedophile? Just ask Subway about that type of fallout. So, if you think skeletons would never be a problem…think again.
Pick someone who wants the job.
Thrusting the role of media spokesperson on an unwilling candidate usually doesn’t work out very well. Clearly, anyone with an evident dislike or mistrust of the media would not be a good choice. Why make enemies before you even start?
Media training is critical.
Spokespersons should be media savvy. They should have to have a good understanding of the world of journalists and how to conduct media interviews. Spokespersons need to know…
- how to effectively convey their organization’s brand values and key messages.
- how to avoid pitfalls, handle negatives and take control in interviews.
- how to use positive body language to reinforce their words.
- how to ensure their appearance represents the brand.
- how to navigate different formats for print and broadcast including news, studio interviews, scrums, news conferences and satellite interviews.
Skill should rule.
Generally, office politics or corporate hierarchy shouldn’t dictate. Top executives are at the top because of a long list of skills. But speaking to reporters may not be on that list. Talking to the media is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. Over the years, I’ve found that few people are naturally gifted. I remember working with a large toy manufacturer who asked me to include a junior staffer in my training session. She was there as an observer, but when two of the participants called in sick on the second day, the boss suggested I put her through a mock interview. I think most people there saw it as a joke or, at best, a courtesy. Then, to everyone’s surprise, this young woman turned out to be one of those rare things…a natural. I was happy to see her skill recognized and rewarded with an instant promotion.
The advantages of multiple spokespersons.
Some organizations might want to consider different spokespersons to speak to different issues. It’s also an option to have someone who handles the technical or scientific questions. And, why not consider individuals who could do interviews in other languages? Perhaps French, Spanish, Chinese or any other language? Multi-national media outlets will always appreciate access to someone who can conduct an interview in their particular language.
Spokespersons should be prepared at all times.
You never know when there might be a call from a reporter. So, in case spokespersons need to do an interview on a casual Friday, they should always keep a spare outfit at work…something appropriate that would convey the right image. Do they need a jacket, a tie, a clean shirt or a company polo? It’s also a good idea to keep a few essentials in a desk drawer…a razor for a quick shave, powder to eliminate the shine factor brought on by television lights and, for women, any makeup they might want for a touchup.
Choosing a crisis spokesperson.
In a crisis, things are a bit different. You want to speak with one prepared voice that can perform under pressure. But, more importantly, the media and the public want access to people directly involved in the story and the people at the top. Typically, they want to hear from the leaders and not middle managers or the public relations department. In a crisis, the spokesperson should be the person in charge. Ideally, that person has also been through media training because on the fly, in the heat of a crisis, it’ll be easier to polish and prepare them for the hot seat than to train them from scratch.
Designated spokespersons should always be available.
Reporters hate it when you offer a spokesperson and then it seems impossible to actually schedule an interview with that person. Availability is even more important during a crisis so it’s wise to choose an alternate or two. With your luck, the crisis will hit while your key spokesperson is in Tahiti on vacation or in the hospital having surgery.