How to Select the Right Spokesperson? Should it be the PR person?

CrisisDrillGerardBraudWho should be your media spokesperson in a crisis?

In a recent blog, we reviewed Argument #1: The CEO Should Always Be the Spokesperson.

Now we can review Argument #2: When Should the PR Person Be the Spokesperson?

The public relations person is an excellent choice as a spokesperson in the first hour of the crisis when media might be just arriving. But your PR guy or gal doesn’t need to be the spokesperson throughout an entire crisis, nor would I suggest they be your only long term spokesperson.

The best argument for using your public relations expert in the early hours of a crisis is because other members of the crisis management team are likely responding to and managing the crisis. Also, those other experts will rely on the PR team to provide them with the words, talking points, and key messages that need to be communicated.

In most cases, your public relations person has a natural gift for words, both spoken and written. These are usually natural gifts that other members of the crisis management team do not have. Usually the C-Suite is heavy on analytical thinkers who are better with numbers, facts, and figures than with words.

If you weigh your options and look at the variables, the senior member of your public relations team is a perfect first choice, especially when a spokesperson is needed in the first hour of the crisis.

Also, always make sure a PR person is on the crisis management team. Additionally, they should serve as leader of the crisis communications team.

Many companies are slow to communicate in a crisis because:

1) they wait until they know everything before they say anything

2) they are waiting for the CEO or a senior manager to free up long enough to speak

My best recommendation is that you should speak within the first hour of a crisis, even when only a few facts are known. You can tell the media what you know now and add more details later. A “First Critical Statement” is the document that I use in every crisis communications plan I write. It should be in your crisis communications plan also. To download your free copy of my First Critical Statement, use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN when you select the item from my shopping cart.

When few facts are known, it allows the PR person to:

1) Acknowledge the crisis

2) Provide basic facts

3) Say something quotable, while promising more information at a future briefing

Our previous blog about speaking with one voice and relying on the CEO explains my belief that multiple spokespeople can speak on behalf of the company and SHOULD speak with one voice.

In our next blog on this topic, I’ll give you a third option as you decide how best to select the right spokesperson for your company.

By Gerard Braud

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.