A trusted spokesperson is one of the most effective tools for any organization, cause or public relations campaign. Generally speaking, people relate better to people than they do, say, to corporate missives, memos or fact sheets. This is why product testimonials from real people – for vacation hotels, plumbers, restaurants or what have you – are as vital as any paid advertising effort.
Every PR campaign is unique, just as every spokesperson is unique. Nevertheless, there are certain traits that any spokesperson must have to be effective.
So what makes a good spokesperson? They must:
Be knowledgeable and conversant – An effective spokesperson must have a wide knowledge of the product, issue or organization that he or she represents. The knowledge does not have to be deep, meaning you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a good spokesperson for NASA. But you do have to have a clear knowledge of your subject and to be able to convey that knowledge into a tone and language that will be easily understood by broad audiences. And maybe it’s a no-brainer, but enthusiasm from a spokesperson is vital.
Be available – An effective spokesperson must be available to the media. The media, whether print, broadcast, radio or digital, will almost always be operating under a deadline. An effective spokesperson must be available and flexible toward the needs of journalists under deadline or risk losing the ability to participate or be quoted for a story. If you’re not available, you’re not effective.
Have a plan – An effective spokesperson will approach every media event or interview with a plan. A plan is usually the key message or the points that you need to convey. The media or press event may or may not naturally facilitate this, so don’t rely on the reporter or questioner to take you where you need to be. Early into any interview, an effective spokesperson will work in key points to help guide the conversation.
Be prepared for hard questions – An effective spokesperson will be prepared to answer media questions that may not be part of the plan. Toward this, it is important to anticipate what those questions might be, and then prepare answers to those possible questions in advance. This is especially critical if you are dealing with a difficult situation or a situation where you know that others may be in strong disagreement.
Walk people across the bridge – An effective spokesperson must also have the ability to “bridge” issues. Simply put, this means the artful ability to answer media questions in a way that promotes, or “bridges back,” to your points or your plan. Suppose a reporter asks you to comment on an old, less-than-successful product or project of yours? Answer by saying, for example, “the valuable lessons we learned from that old project were essential to creating the team and roadmap for our current successful enterprise, which I want to tell you all about today.”
Be genuine – Nobody likes a fake. People notice immediately when a spokesperson doesn’t believe or is uncomfortable with their own messaging. We recently listened to a spokesperson for the Philadelphia 76ers explain the team’s decision to place advertising on players’ jerseys. The spokesperson implied that the team’s decision represented progress and compared it to someone choosing an iPhone over a rotary phone, or a plane over a train. To us, these examples sounded phony and contrived. In fact, the 76ers had one of the worst seasons in NBA history and likely need additional ad revenue for support. For the Sixers to explain the advertising move as progress, while avoiding or dismissing the reality of their situation, seems less than genuine.
So, be genuine. Also be knowledgeable, prepared, available and enthusiastic. If you can combine all of these traits and tactics, you will have the perfect recipe for success as a spokesperson.