The current issue of PRInfluences carries an article on the type of corporate spokesperson that works best.
It presents four types of spokespersons in Australian organizations:
1. The “Egotist CEO” insists on being the only person to speak to media. He/she is either an entrepreneur, owner or significant stakeholder. This type of spokesperson can enhance the organization’s profile but usually brings no structure or depth to the PR.
The advantages are that he/she can give the organization a personality and a profile, can build good relations with key media people, and can get a greater share of media for the company. He/she can be a potent weapon if talented and willing to listen to advice.
The disadvantages are that the organization’s profile and media coverage becomes personality-driven, the spokesperson often does not have the discipline to deliver consistent messaging supportive of the business and its objectives, and, therefore, it can be difficult to implement formal PR.
2. The “Recluse CEO” refuses to interact with media, or does so only when there is no other option. He/she is often a finance person or a multinational on assignment.
There are very little advantages. A less effective alternative would be to have a separate spokesperson backed up by a PR program.
The disadvantages are that the organization will have less media coverage, the staff will have lower morale, and PR and stakeholder engagement becomes more difficult.
3. The “Career Company Spokesperson” is usually a career company manager who is given the job before retirement or because he/she presents or speaks well or knows the company very well.
The advantages are that he/she is well-supported internally and knows the politics of the organization, runs an administratively sound PR and public affairs unit, can protect the company from controversy, and can be relied on not to embarrass the company.
The disadvantages are that he/she lacks media knowledge; distrusts media and doesn’t build relations with them, thus, not earning their confidence; and sees his/her role as to keep the company out of media. In return, media tends to avoid him/her, knowing they won’t get news.
4. The “Specialist Media Spokesperson” is usually a journalist or media personality hired to be part of the public relations team under the PR or Corporate Affairs Director. He/she needs to be backed up by a comprehensive PR structure to do strategy, planning and wider stakeholder communication.
The advantages are that he/she has media expertise, knowledge and contacts; knows how to deal with media and how to deliver messages; and is favored by reporters.
The disadvantages are that he/she usually has little knowledge of the company or of PR, is only capable of handling routine media inquiries, and may not defend the organization to the extent expected by management.
The article clarifies that these categories are generalizations. In a large organization, PR players include the CEO and/or senior management, the PR or Corporate Affairs Director, the company spokesperson, the PR Department and the PR agency. The spokesperson is just part of the team.
The article aims to present guidelines in determining the strengths and weaknesses of certain types of spokespersons so that organizations can take the necessary steps to complement these and come up with more effective PR.