Selecting the Right Spokesperson: Should it be the CEO?

crisisdrillgerardbraud2In public relations, media training and crisis communications training, there are many debates about who should be your spokesperson for media interviews.

Many companies want to use their CEO as the only spokesperson based on the belief that it allows the company to speak with one voice.

Do you agree with that or disagree? I think this has always been a flawed assumption and here is why…

It is always appropriate for the CEO to be the spokesperson for media interviews about good news. This would be true for good financial news, corporate expansions, and for charitable donations.

The other time when the CEO should be your spokesperson is when condolences and empathy need to be expressed. This would be true in certain crisis communications when there has been a loss of life, serious injuries, or flawed corporate decisions that have an adverse impact on customers or the community. In these cases, the CEO should become the face of the organization’s compassion. Even then, the CEO as a spokesperson might come several hours into the crisis. In the first hour, when a statement needs to be made, the CEO is often busy with other issues. That is just one more reason to have multiple spokespeople who have been media trained.

A CEO who wants to be the only spokesperson is destined for failure. In a crisis, the CEO should be:

1) Managing the crisis

2) Managing the business operations

This is especially true in the first hours of a crisis when information is just becoming available.

Also, if a CEO misspeaks early in a crisis, it destroys his or her credibility and undermines the reputation of the organization. Whereas, if anyone else misspeaks early in the crisis, the CEO can step in to clarify the facts and becomes the hero figure.

The worst time for the CEO to be the spokesperson is for a minor crisis. Having the CEO as your spokesperson for something small adds greater emphasis to the crisis.

In our next two blog entries, we will give you options as to who should be the spokesperson in a minor crisis.

Speaking with one voice is a noble pursuit, but through good media training numerous people can be taught to speak with the same message and in essence with “one voice.” That one voice doesn’t have to come from a single mouth or spokesperson.

Remember BP’s CEO Tony Hayward, who uttered, “I want my life back.” That line caused him to be fired as CEO.