Choosing a corporate spokesperson is a key to your organization's or your client's communications plan and how successful it will be.
The spokesperson is the public face of your company or organization and as such, they are just about the most important person in your business for PR purposes. In some situations, they may be even more important than the CEO. Think, for example, of the White House Press Secretary. He is the daily voice of President Obama with the press.
The #1 rule for spokesperson-101 is to be available when needed. The press hates nothing more than needing to reach the spokesperson that they have been told to reach, and then that person is unreachable. It also makes your company look bad and may lead to a “no comment” or “unavailable for comment” being your only comment in the story.
Worse for you or your company or client is if the press is reaching out to two spokespersons and getting two different responses. I call this off-the-reservation syndrome. This is especially true in a high-profile crisis.
In making the selection of who is the corporate spokesperson, you will be faced with an age old PR question: should a CEO be the spokesperson, or should it be a senior PR person? The CEO should be the point person for major media interviews or announcements.
Making the CEO the spokesperson in other stories or press situations can needlessly elevate the story and the situation, and you need to think if you want to send that message. Often, it is better to make your senior PR person the corporate spokesperson so it seems like a more routine response to a routine story.
What to Look for in the Spokesperson
There are several things to keep in mind when selecting the corporate spokesperson:
- Make sure they are experienced in doing this.
- Have one and only one spokesperson in a crisis; have one or two in non-crisis situations, including one as a backup. Also consider if you need different spokespersons in different time zones or parts of the world.
- Make sure they are battle-tested with the media.
- Make sure they are media-trained. If not, train them ASAP.
- Make sure they know everything they need to know about the situation they are to comment on.
- Make sure they say only what has been approved. Don't stray from the script and avoid going off the record where possible.
- Make sure the spokesperson's statements or press release matches what you are saying on social media and all other communications channels – both externally and internally.
- Make sure that other employees who are contacted by the press are told as a matter of policy to refer all the reporters to the spokesperson. And tell those other employees not to make any statements – after all, that's why you have a spokesperson.
- Make sure the spokesperson remains consistent with his or her message throughout.
Review and Look Back to Look Ahead
You should review your communications plans on a regular basis, and as part of that, take a look at the corporate spokesperson and his or her role and their performance to date.
If the spokesperson's work needs tweaking, tweak it. If you feel you need to switch the spokesperson, do that, but don't do it too often. You don't want to confuse the press and you don't want to make them think there is a story in the reasons why you keep changing spokespersons.
Remember that the spokesperson is only as good as the information he or she has and the timing of that information. If the spokesperson doesn't have all the information they need or doesn't have it in a timely fashion, even the best PR person can't create and deliver a comment to the media out of thin air.
As long as you think of the issues raised here, your spokesperson should be able to do a good job. The only caveat is if something else develops out of left field, and as we all know with PR and the media, there is always that chance. A good spokesperson should be able to adapt.
Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms