For all their prominence in modern communications, spokespersons tend to be overlooked. Indeed, the more accomplished they are, the less noticeable their figures are: what matters is what they say, not who they are.
It is curious that it should be so in an age of social media narcissism and information overload. Yet audiences know that spokespersons speak for somebody else or, more often, organizations.
Unacknowledged as they may occasionally be, spokespersons are the public faces of their companies and, eventually, come to embody their ‘personality,’ in the same, often imperceptible ways, in which we form our impressions about other people.
And they are irreplaceable in that role. Spokespersons not only convey to the public a message on behalf of the person or organization they represent, but also articulate the answers to questions, comments or complaints from the media and now the public, thanks to the vast possibilities of direct communications the internet and social networks offer.
The “human face” for organizations
We all like to hear the news, especially when they are bad, from persons, who speak and who can relate to us. Through spokespersons, companies and governments become human in an immediate manner everybody can see.
As such, spokespersons help the persons or companies they speak for to:
- Articulate a clear message that the audience can understand.
- Build trust with the public.
- Promote communication.
Some requirements to be an effective spokesperson:
- Follow the organization’s policy on the release of information. If none is in place, one needs to be developed.
- Prepare your message ahead of the interview or press conference.
- Make your point and then be attentive and listen.
- Stick to what you are entitled to say and what you know.
- Acknowledge what you don’t know.
- When you promise to look into something they don’t know, follow up on it.
- Do not commit if you cannot deliver.
- Respect goes a long way. Keep your composure even before hostile questioning but draw a red line against abusive language.
The importance of spokespersons in a crisis
The importance of spokespersons comes into sharp relief in a crisis. Every word they utter may come loaded with as many interpretations as there are listeners, so the careful choice of wording is of the utmost importance. In cases of unforeseen events or emergencies, the more skilled spokespersons:
- Acknowledge uncertainties, facts and concerns.
- Empathize with the public.
- Inform about responses.
- Offer initial guidance (in case of a product recall, for example).
- Are not on the defensive.
- Are not overconfident.
- Do not minimize and do not exaggerate.
- Avoid hypothetical questions: they distract from the facts and do not address the issues.
More importantly, in a crisis or not, remember that every company member is, even if in an informal capacity and perhaps not always consciously, a spokesperson for the organization. That is why it is important for you and your team to be media-savvy in this time of media overexposure, with all its benefits and windfalls, but also challenges.
Where to start?
Company spokespersons needs to first develop a communication policy and articulate the message they are trying to get across to their target audience. And, crucially, they need to stay on message.
How to do it? There are several ways, according to your needs and your budget.
You Need To Develop Your Message
If your company does not have media and public relations messaging, Verb can help you develop one contained in a standalone briefing book. It is a thorough, in-depth document that outlines the principles and goals of your communication, the roles and duties of your public spokespersons, and contingency scenarios and the suggested responses they call for.
You Need Research on One Specific Issue
You have a media policy and team in place and now you need to understand better a new business or market you are about to enter: say, “How Mobile Technology Is Transforming Personal Banking in Mexico.” In this case, Verb’s team of correspondents, writers and editors will write an in-depth white paper.
You Need To Update Your Corporate Blog
Or you need to write a press release or an article. Then what you need is Verb’s subscription plan starting at $600 per month. You will get a monthly blog post or article, plus featured art and related posts for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You can cancel anytime. See other services we offer.
We Are Our Story
Whatever you decide, we encourage you to develop a consistent discourse over time. Bear in mind that, in the end, we are who we say we are and the stories we tell. For any company, it takes a lot of effort and time to define ourselves.
These documents—the briefing book, the white paper, the articles—become your discourse. They give your spokesperson the script. But, more importantly, they help you write the story of your company in your own words. Because remember: we are our story.
In any case, our Newsroom of writers and editors, each of them with decades of experience in the field, can help you.