Choosing a spokesperson in time of crisis: One size does not fit all

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When developing a crisis management plan, how you are planning to communicate is not just an option, it is a necessity. By saying “No comment,” not saying anything at all, or simply issuing a written statement could raise a red flag about your credibility or keep people wondering what you are trying to hide. At some point, you will want to offer a spokesperson to update the media or your stakeholders regarding the situation at hand.

One priority for crisis communications that is often overlooked is selecting the right spokesperson for your organization. Often, the crisis team automatically assumes that it should be the company CEO or president, but that is not always the case. (And don’t forget about the scenarios that may involve your CEO or president!)

While there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach for everyone, there are many things to consider when selecting your company spokesperson in a time of crisis:

Every person that is tasked with speaking on behalf of a company should go through proper media training. This includes knowing company key messages inside and out, participating in mock news conference (which are video recorded) and critique sessions and knowing the dos, don’ts and differences of radio, TV and print media interviews.

Selecting a spokesperson with excellent communication skills and the right personality is a must. They should be able to demonstrate sincerity and transparency during an interview. You will want someone who can connect with stakeholders, while also able to determine the fine line between empathy and apology if need be.

Keep in mind that you should think about the right number of spokespeople for your organization. You could be facing a situation where you need a company CEO and possibly other employees who have the right expertise on a particular subject matter. Do you have multiple sites affected? Does your situation require you to give constant and consistent updates over a period of several days? These are both instances where it is a good idea to have more than one spokesperson identified and trained.

Think about your spokesperson’s availability. You might not want your company spokesperson to be someone who is always traveling or out of the office. Also, appoint an individual to take questions or calls before the designated spokesperson arrives. And remember to always have a backup in case your primary spokesperson leaves for vacation (and have all spokesperson contact information readily available).

Some other general qualifications should include:
• Sincere on-camera presence
• Knowledge of the organization
• Able to talk generally about specific information
• Credibility
• Physical appearance (it is important to select someone who looks organized and put together)

Are there other traits you feel are important in a company spokesperson? Please share in the comment section.

Written by

Karen Schlieve

With more than nine years of full-service agency PR experience, Karen Schlieve has worked with clients in a variety of industries including construction, health care, financial, education, non-profit, government, professional services and more. With a passion for a fast-paced work environment, she has successfully led numerous crisis communications projects including company embezzlements, environmental issues, labor disputes. Karen is a well rounded PR professional who excels in campaign research and planning, media relations and thinking strategically about a client's social media and online presence. Her attention to detail and determination are crucial in exceeding the goals of a PR program. Karen also has an uncanny ability to read a situation for what it is and make sound recommendations. As a graduate from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, Karen is on the board of directors for the Fox Valley Sibling Support Network. She also serves as the publicity chair of the Public Relations Society of America - Northeast Wisconsin Chapter and is involved with the Pulse Young Professionals Network marketing committee.

1 Comments to “Choosing a spokesperson in time of crisis: One size does not fit all”

  1. Tara Brzozowski says:

    Nice article. I’d also say he or she needs to be well rehearsed in the art of responding to unanticipated questions. As you mentioned media training and practice are essential to developing this skill.

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