Ten top tips for a budding corporate spokesperson

18/08/2016

Paula Nugent

We are often asked what makes a great media spokesperson. Is it sparkling looks? Charisma? Pithy soundbites? We take a look at what journalists are really looking for from commentators.

Ten top tips for a budding corporate spokesperson

Having a good spokesperson is key to building a company’s reputation and should not be undervalued. A corporate spokesperson puts a human face to a firm and is in a unique position to put a company’s key messages across to a specific audience.

We all know the damage that can be done to a company’s reputation when a spokesperson falls flat on their face.  Think back to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in which 11 people were killed, and countless wildlife and coastline destroyed. BP’s then chief executive, Tony Hayward, went on to tell a group of reporters, “I’d like my life back.” BP’s lack of empathy seriously damaged the company’s reputation and it faced a huge backlash from the public.

On the other side of the coin, Sir Richard Branson is regarded as one of the best company spokespeople out there.  He uses his relaxed persona to promote Virgin’s brand values whilst demonstrating a significant degree of knowledge.  He’s also quick off the mark when it comes to responding to crisis situations.  His handling of the Virgin train crash in Cumbria in 2007 and the crash of Virgin’s Galactic’s SpaceShip Two in 2014 were textbook responses.  He spoke with sympathy, honesty and authority.

A successful media spokesperson understands the following points:

  • Respond quickly – Journalists are often pressed for time and appreciate spokespeople getting back to them quickly.  Even if you want to take your time over the response, it’s important to let them know that you will be providing a comment.
  • Be concise – Speak with clarity, as it’s important that your audience understand what you’re saying.  Ensure you don’t speak too quickly – it’s fine to pause briefly and gather your thoughts.  The best spokespeople keep their interviews short and focused. 
  • Clearmessages – Think about the three main messages you want to get across beforehand and stick to them during the interview. Don’t allow yourself to be side-tracked, enabling journalists to put words into your mouth. 
  • Do your research and be prepared – Think about the questions you could be asked beforehand and prepare your answers, especially if they could be negative in tone.  Also research the journalist you are speaking to and the publication they are writing for. 
  • Know your audience and engage – It’s essential that you keep your audience front of mind and tailor your messages accordingly.  For example are you speaking to people from a technical or non-technical background? 
  • Have strong opinions – Journalists are always looking for opinionated comments that haven’t been expressed in the media before. If you can give journalists a comment that’s newsworthy, they are likely to come back to you for future stories. 
  • Be confident – Ensure you speak with authority, demonstrating that you know what you’re talking about. 
  • Be human – You want to be able to connect with an audience in order to build support and trust for your firm. 
  • Be relaxed – It’s natural to be nervous in front of the media, but putting forward a relaxed image will demonstrate that you have nothing to hide and will help the audience buy into what you are saying.
  • Use examples and statistics – Bring your messages to life with examples, anecdotes and statistics.
  • Media training – Finally, in order to bring all of the above aspects together, there’s really no substitute to an effective media training programme.  This will give individuals the tools they need when speaking to a journalist and help them become the best spokesperson they can be.

These tips will help ensure that companies get the most out of media commentary.  A company’s spokesperson has the potential to positively or negatively affect that company’s reputation.  Their importance cannot be underestimated.