We are finalizing a media training session for senior executives at one of our clients. It reminded me that training is one aspect, albeit very important. Equally important is picking the right trained spokesperson and that really depends upon the situation.
Many companies tend to have two extremes in selecting spokespeople. Some always send out the public relations person, while others insist that only the CEO speak. Neither of these rules works well all the time. Sometimes the top PR person is great. Sometimes the CEO is best. In many cases, neither is the best choice.
When I worked as a reporter, I generally wanted to talk to the person closest to the story I was covering. If a hospital announced a new procedure, I wanted to speak to a front-line doctor or a patient, much more so than the PR person or the CEO. If the news report is about a non-profit agency doing good work, I wanted to talk with a volunteer, not the executive director. If there is an explosion or fire, I wanted to talk to an eye witness or front-line supervisor. The closer I got as a reporter to the person closest to the story, the happier I was and the better story I could write.
This means that when it comes to media training, you need to use the same principle that a great sports team uses. You must train and build bench strength. This gives your organization a larger number of spokespersons to send forth. The key is identifying them and providing training that allows them to be confident and ready when the need arises.
Once you’ve got the bench trained and ready, ask these questions when choosing a spokesperson.
1. Is this person technically qualified? A lot of qualifications are tied to job titles, but titles are not always key. Don’t automatically assume your CEO or top executive should be your spokesperson, especially in times of crisis. Instead, you want someone who can step in as the face of your organization if necessary. Who the spokesperson is at any given time depends on that person, the message that needs to be communicated and the audience who needs to receive it.
2. Can this person provide factual information accurately and quickly? The person you choose needs to have knowledge of the information needed and access to that information.
3. Does this person have the communication ability/authority to speak without rehearsing? You want your spokesperson to be able to rehearse, but sometimes this just isn’t possible. There are times (during a crisis, for example) when your spokesperson will have to speak at press conferences or in media interviews with little time for preparation. Be sure your spokesperson can speak intelligently and directly on the fly, if necessary.
4. Will this person present information in a clear, concise and competent manner? You want a spokesperson who is articulate, who can communicate key points without adding a lot of extra information and jargon.
5. Will the public understand the situation by listening to this person? Your spokesperson should be able to communicate what happened that led to this point, what’s happening now and what’s next in a way that your key audiences can understand.
6. Does this person communicate concern for people in a clear, compassionate manner? Some people are more compassionate than others. Some people just have a difficult time communicating concern and compassion without coming across flat. If this is the type of information you need communicated, you want to make sure your spokesperson can handle it without sounding like a jerk.
7. Do people trust this person? Whether your target audiences will trust your spokesperson is directly related to vocal quality, confidence and appearance. Like it or not, people will decide immediately whether they think your spokesperson knows what he/she is talking about. Think about whether you would trust your spokesperson if he/she were a stranger delivering this news to you.
8. Does this person want to be a spokesperson? You really shouldn’t force someone into the spokesperson role. If an individual isn’t comfortable representing your organization, then they are not the right person for the job. Choose someone else.
9. Is this person good with the medium required? Your spokesperson represents your organization in a lot of different scenarios. It may be in front of a large crowd, a small group or in a face-to-face interview with a reporter. Understand which medium is required and which spokesperson is best at that medium.
Speaking with the news media represents an excellent opportunity to tell your company’s story, if you get it right. If you get it wrong, your company’s reputation and brand can be damaged permanently. With a strong bench of trained spokespeople, you’ll be prepared for most situations with the best spokesperson to tell your best stories. Call us if you want to learn more about building some spokesperson bench strength at your organization.