Merrily Orsini's Thought Leadership

Not just a pretty face

They deliver both good news and bad. You see them at murder scenes and crash sites. They stand behind the podium when a company launches a new product or announces a donation to charity. Unlike CEOs and other executives, these folks live for the media spotlight. In fact, they thrive in it, being interviewed by print, television, radio and online media on a host of topics related to a company’s business. They look and perform well in front of the camera. For all intents and purposes, they become the face of the company for anyone out there watching.

There are a number of interchangeable titles commonly used to describe the position: public relations director, public information officer (PIO), media relations director, press secretary and spokesperson are just a few. Even the slang term “talking head” will do is an apropos descriptor for this man or woman who holds press conferences and enjoys bringing the company’s message before the masses.

But what does it take to be a good spokesperson? How do you know if you or another candidate has the “right stuff” to go before the camera lenses and not embarrass the company? Creating a good impression in the minds of viewers is not as difficult as you might think.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1) Know the company. As a spokesperson, it’s your job to represent the company to those on the outside. You carry its brand reputation on your shoulders and you’re given the task of telling the agency’s story. You can’t tell a story you’ve never heard. That’s why it’s critical for the spokesperson to know the story front and back.

2) Convey the proper image. If the spokesperson is going to succeed at using the media spotlight to win new clientele, she is going to have to forge a special connection with your target market. To do that, she’ll have to convince them that she is just like them: they she has the same dreams, goals, limitations, challenges and fears.

This will, in some ways, limit your pool of prospective candidates. Obviously if you’re trying to build an image of responsibility and professionalism around your agency, you don’t want to choose spokespeople who remind viewers of Cheech and Chong.

“If your product requires an elderly man to convey experience and trust, you won’t waste your time looking at children,” explains an article on eHow.com. “Know the image you want your product to represent in customers’ heads and build a spokesperson around that.”

3) Be both spontaneous and diplomatic. In the YouTube clip inserted at the end of this article, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs had to respond to an annoying disturbance – the repeated interruption of a press conference by noisy cell phones. He could have simply let the interruptions continue – or worse – he could have become angry and turned the media against him. Instead he took action by commandeering the cell phones while turning the entire event into a humorous comedy sketch. His decisiveness won diplomatic points in the media, and the exchange got a lot of airplay, both online and on television.

It only goes to demonstrate how company spokespersons have to think on their feet. While they can’t sacrifice the message for the sake of diplomacy, neither can they sacrifice diplomacy for the sake of the message.

4) Look good on TV. Last but not least, good spokespeople have to feel comfortable in their own skin knowing that, behind that camera lens may lay thousands of adoring – and not so adoring – viewers. She has to feel (and look) comfortable on television talking to those who may not like the message she’s conveying.

“On TV physical comfort is essential,” writes Susan Harrow. “You need to be able to laugh at your gaffs and handle anything that comes your way. Be ready for people to say off-the-wall things to you. If you’re not physically comfortable in your clothes, the way you look and feel, that impinges on your ability to banter. The audience can tell immediately and it reflects on the product you’re promoting.”
Being a company spokesperson can be a fun and exciting challenge for those who enjoy the limelight. At the same time, it’s important for anyone who fills the role to understand both the dangers and the rewards. Not every story or TV appearance is a chance for positive PR. Sometimes it’s best to turn down that interview request – especially if it might forever link the company to a negative experience or news event.

Call corecubed today and we’ll give you the guidance you need to succeed on or off camera!

Robert Gibbs at the White House with Cell Phone Interruption