When pursuing media coverage or responding to media inquiries, an effective spokesperson (or handful of quality spokespeople) is key in ensuring relevant information and messaging are relayed clearly and effectively. An effective spokesperson can be the difference between preserving your business’ reputation or having it fall apart like a house of cards.
But there’s more to being a spokesperson than designating one. Six critical elements make a spokesperson sought out for commentary:
- Be available: Whether TV, radio, print or online, reporters live and die by their deadlines. That’s why when they ring, it’s critical for an effective spokesperson to be available and heed their call. That doesn’t mean going without a life or sitting around waiting for a call like a lonely teenager. It’s more about respecting and understanding that reporters’ time is valuable and limited. If they are reaching out for something, don’t wait to help them out or you may miss an important opportunity.
- Be prepared: Preparation separates the effective spokespeople from the rest. Conducting research and understanding all the key messaging and talking points prior to engaging with reporters helps them successfully address any question. But preparation goes beyond company talking points. It’s vital to have a good handle on the bigger picture or topic. Even if you don’t plan to comment about a particular topic, do your homework. Try to anticipate potential questions reporters might ask and develop a plan on how to respond. This is particularly important when there’s potential to be asked about controversial or hot-button issues.
- Be a bridge: Effective spokespeople want to be cognizant of reporters’ needs and answer each question if they can. But sometimes a reporter asks a question a spokesperson can’t or doesn’t want to answer for a variety of reasons. When this happens, effective spokespeople want to be a bridge and steer the interview back to more favorable topics or messaging. In these instances, you want to make use of the block-and-bridge technique. It’s every effective spokesperson’s not-so-secret weapon to handle questions they want to avoid without resorting to the dreaded “no comment.”
- Be authentic: Certainly, it’s important for spokespeople to stay on message, but reporters don’t like to feel as though they’re talking to a company robot. At best, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. At worst, they don’t include any of your comments in their story. Remember to emphasize the person in spokesperson. Be authentic and genuine with your responses and during interviews. Ask questions of the reporter (and be sure to remember their responses later) to build rapport. The goal, after all, is to build an ongoing relationship and become a go-to source for future stories and coverage.
- Be quotable: Quotability is the near-mystical quality to convey information in a succinct, engaging and entertaining manner. Dynamic spokespeople are masters of quotability. They understand that it’s not enough to merely relay or regurgitate information like some high-school history student, but to provide nuance, context and memorability to make the information stand out for the reporter and, by extension, their audience.
- Be practicing: Stellar spokespeople aren’t born, they’re made — through continual practice and effort. Like any other critical skill, the more you practice and learn from your mistakes, the better you become. Ahead of interviews, review relevant talking points and practice how you will respond to certain questions. Experiment with the block-and-bridge technique or rehearse a particularly snappy quote or analogy that gets your message across just right. Whenever possible, have someone practice with you to provide objective feedback. Taking the time to practice will help ensure accuracy and show the reporter that you’re someone worth talking to — and quoting — again and again.
Need more help honing your spokesperson and media relations skills? Aker Ink’s extensive media background can help you (and your spokespeople) gain the confidence to effectively represent your business.