Establishing an organizational spokesperson is one of the first steps in creating an effective PR strategy. The right representative can positively shape an organization’s image and reputation by providing a face to the company, humanizing the brand and demonstrating the depth and strength of leadership. But despite being a somewhat obvious need, the decision should not be taken lightly. For most brands, there is not a “one size fits all” model and choosing the ideal spokesperson(s) means first taking a thorough examination of your organization’s needs.
How often is your organization seeking media opportunities or addressing the press? If often, 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 into spot news? Is your outreach focused on a particular region of your footprint?
Each of these examples involves very different media conversations. Since 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 with anticipated responses to controversial questions. While 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 like 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 allows 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…”
Despite the length of an interview, most sources are only given 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 issues with NBA Commissioner David Stern over the years, perhaps no single owner – other than George Steinbrenner – has attracted more attention to his organization than Mark Cuban. 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, chair, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, is another example of a proactive organizational spokesperson. As founder of The Huffington Post, Arianna certainly understands how the media works, but also recognizes the unique niche her publication occupies. By being accessible, vocal, approachable and outspoken on a variety of topics, she reflects her brand’s strongest qualities.
But not every company makes the perfect spokesperson choice the first time around. While Facebook may have been attempting to replicate the success of the single spokesperson like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg has continuously struggled with likeability and reputation management, especially after the 2010 movie “The Social Network” that chronicled the founding of Facebook. Although Zuckerberg still largely handles new product announcements, others in the organization, like 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 that 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 oil spill in the Gulf Coast. While company mistakes can be particularly stressful, a damaging response can quickly go viral and detrimentally hurt the brand and spokesperson’s reputation.
Bottom line: as quickly as a good spokesperson can positively improve brand image, an ill-prepared, ill-chosen spokesperson can detrimentally impact your reputation overnight.
Photo credit: Bartlomiej Stroinski
This entry was originally published on PRDaily.com.