Your spokesperson: Savior, or not?

In this era of WikiLeaks, everyone's a "journalist" -- journalistic ethics and search for the truth, often be damned. And, unlike previous decades, our 24/7 news cycle has decreased our power to issue and control our company's or organization's message.

Today, your success in managing the message and imparting it in a powerful and consistent manner is far more challenging. And the responsibility relies heavily upon your spokesperson.

Today, when your situation calls for engaging the media -- or a reporter wants an interview on an issue, product, trend or crisis, you'd best be prepared with the best-trained and effective person in the company.

Be careful: This person is not necessarily your leader, president or CEO. Identify a person who is completely knowledgeable -- not only about the subject at hand, but the entire company; he/she must be able to translate even complex information into simple, understandable, declarative language. Moreover, in nearly every media situation, the spokesperson must accomplish delivering the message(s) in just a few sentences or seconds. More and more, spokespersons are given less and less time to report or respond.

It's worth the time and effort to have an internal discussion about how best and/or most interestingly or "impactfully" to describe a product or situation. Write down the key points -- your spokesperson must stick to those as much as possible. In fact, prose up these points and arguments; your spokesperson can rehearse and deliver them verbatim and also be able to issue them in writing. Consistency is the key.

Your spokesperson must be nimble; able to think on his/her feet, have enough confidence (and information!) to appropriately manage the surprise question, a change of subject, an attack (to which he/she must never be defensive. Is "I am not a crook!" one of the most memorable lines in American contemporary history?) Under attack or surprise, you need your coolest cat.

Understanding the differences between dealing with a television reporter vs. a print reporter, for instance, is vital to your spokesperson's success. Needless to say, we can undertake an entire discussion about responses and control regarding whether the television interview is taped or live, whether the print/Web reporter is writing or recording, etc.

If at all possible, do not assign your public relations representative (if an outside agency) the role of company mouthpiece. The public's knee-jerk take-away is that a noncompany spokesperson is assigned in order to "hide" key information.

Bottom line? The public wants creativity, credibility and your company needs absolute messaging consistency. That way, WikiLeaks might not be able to get'cha.

Walcher is principal P.R. consultant to J. Walcher Communications.

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