Having a good company spokesperson is essential for your public relations as the public will see and hear them more than anyone else in your organisation. The spokesperson gives your organisation both a face and a voice, helping to build trust with the audience on your behalf.
Problems may arise if your spokesperson is unprepared, especially during a crisis. In this article, we outline how to prepare your company spokesperson for media interviews:
A company spokesperson is an individual who has been elected to represent the company and speak on the organisation's behalf to the media. This could be someone in the marketing department, a member of a PR firm hired by the company or an employee, such as the CEO. They will be an "expert" in the eyes of the audience.
Choosing the correct spokesperson is crucial for your organisation's success because they can significantly influence the audience.
There are certain characteristics a spokesperson should have:
Spokesperson training provide safe environments to learn and practice key skills needed to produce a successful media interview. It is beneficial regardless of the level of experience. Training can be received in different formats:
Practicing mock interviews with colleagues can be a useful way to fine-tune skills:
Online spokesperson training courses are also available. There a variety out there catering to different preferences, for example, some courses consist of critiquing interview videos, in other courses the spokesperson may be able to practice with somebody via a webcam or perhaps attend live classes with professional coaches. Location is not a limiting factor meaning high-quality training can still be accessed.
Training face-to-face with a coach will provide your spokesperson with training in realistic situations. So it's a good way to learn and improve skills whilst leaving the spokesperson feeling more confident for the real interview.
Generally, the coaches will be experienced journalists which means they can provide valuable insight into how interviewers think and act. This is especially useful in teaching the spokesperson how to anticipate what direction an interview could go in and how to manage this effectively.
A lack of preparation can hinder the spokesperson's performance before they even arrive at the interview location. Preparing for the interview will leave them feeling more confident which will increase the likelihood of them performing well. Ensure that you and your spokesperson go through the following tips beforehand:
Preparation can be adapted to how much you know about the interviewer. Therefore it's important to find out:
If you know about the interviewer's experience and their aims, you may be able to gauge how they feel about your organisation and predict what topics and questions may come up.
Watch and listen to the interviewer's recent shows so you understand how they usually operate. This will also highlight any opinions and biases that may surface in the interview.
It's likely that you will be worrying mostly about the unknown. You or your organisation should accumulate the following information to alleviate some of this anxiety:
Many organisations create a prep document with the above.
Go over your previous interviews and find out what was done well and what needs improving.
In your interview you're aiming to deliver key messages to the audience which they should remember afterwards. Prepare around three essential messages as this is a good amount for the audience to absorb in a short time. In these key messages:
Facts are statistics or figures. Understand where these statistics have come from in case you are asked and preferably use facts provided by independent agencies as these are generally more reliable. Tailor your facts to your audience, for instance, depending on the audience you may say "That is the equivalent of consuming three double cheeseburgers" rather than "2000 calories".
Examples can be in the form of personal stories, case studies, anecdotes etc. They are usually more relatable and memorable than facts. For example, if your organisation is trying to reduce social exclusion amongst the elderly, you may describe how a, previously isolated, elderly woman's life improved after making new friends and engaging in more activities through your organisation.
Repeat these key messages throughout the interview.
You may be sent interview questions or topics beforehand. Even if you haven't been sent anything, try to predict and prepare for what you may be asked:
Near the end of the interview you may be asked a question regarding a wider topic. Such as, "While you're here, how do you think the introduction of the x policy will affect your organisation?" Answering poorly may detract from your messages so keep up-to-date with relevant news and prepare to be asked about these topics.
Send a media pack to the interviewer prior. This will provide them with your organisation's information which will be used to formulate their questions. It should also provide you with some comfort as you know they're reading reliable information.
If it's a possibility send pre-answered questions to the interviewer. This will give you more control over the interview's direction so it should help with your nerves.
When picking your interview outfit, first think about who you are representing because your attire should support this. Also, wearing the wrong outfit can draw attention away from your key messages:
Avoid technical terminology or jargon so your messages come across clearly. It may be helpful to imagine answering family members or friends.
Your aim should be to deliver your messages in a comprehensive way without losing the audience's attention:
Prove that you have something valuable to share instead of over-branding. Provide the audience with useful information, tactics and tips. They're more likely to warm to you, and therefore your organisation, if you're already making an effort to help them out.
Try to begin answers with a "why" and then lead into a "what" if it will benefit your company's image. "What does your company do?" is a commonly asked question. In your answer, you can emphasise the value of what the company does if you explain why it does it.
For example: "Many people in lower economical areas say they want to eat more healthily but they prioritise cheaper foods. Our organisation helps set up community allotments in areas of economic deprivation."
Do not wait for an interviewer to ask you the "right questions" to get your messages across as this may never happen. The bridging technique allows you to move the interview towards your preferred direction:
Concentration is vital during the interview so ensure you recognise anything than can be distracting and then take steps to manage this:
Prior to the interview, ensure that you prepare your vocal chords:
The audience form an impression of you and therefore your organisation from this quick interview so they're using anything than can to form an opinion. This includes your body language:
Watch or listen to the interview so you can learn from it.
Thank the interviewing team with an email and clarify anything that you missed:
Many organisations realise they require a spokesperson when the company is dealing with a negative situation because the media tend to heavily publicise these stories. Your organisation must be ready prior to this as a story can quickly go viral. If there has been a crisis, a media interview should be organised as soon as possible so you have the chance to protect your organisation's reputation. Live interviews are preferable as the editors have less control.
Difficult questions: Anticipate and prepare for difficult questions.
Careful: There is no room for error in a crisis communications interview so you must not stray from your messages. If you say anything that could be misinterpreted or could produce bad sound bites this could be used negatively and even destroy your company's image.
Expression: It's important for your facial expression to match what is being said as it's likely that smiling will be inappropriate.
Clarify actions: Ensure that you clarify: what actions you are taking to remedy the crisis, how you will assist anyone that has been harmed, explain whether there is an investigation taking place and inform the interviewer how you will lower the chances of this happening again, such as, putting new policies in place.
Take responsibility: Admit the mistake and don't defend it. For example, during the 2010 catastrophic oil spill the former CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, said "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume". This understandably upset the public. So make sure you admit your mistakes and move on to talk about how you're trying to resolve the situation and prevent it from happening again.
Convey the most important message: At the first chance, usually after an open question, convey your most important message.
Evasion: Do not evade questions or conceal negative information as this will only frustrate the audience and it looks like you do not care. If you are asked a negative question, answer it and try to make a positive point when possible.
Emotionally-charged questions: You may want to argue with the interviewer but it's important that you remain calm, polite and focused because you're talking via the interviewer to the public and you want them to trust you. Rather than acting defensively, act positively.
Never blame: Never blame others as it can worsen a situation, for instance, after a passenger was forcibly removed from a flight in 2017, United Airlines tried blaming the passenger. This considerably escalated the situation as there was opposing video evidence. Instead of casting the blame discuss what you are doing to resolve the issue.
Remain assertive: Act assertively rather than passively or aggressively; rather than saying "I disagree," say "I'm unsure I agree with that."
Avoid saying no comment/I can't tell you that: Understand that there may be legal implications of what you say. If you cannot comment on something explain why or it looks like you're hiding something. For example, you could say "At present I cannot comment on that as there are legal proceedings in process"
Explain the context: Highlight the context to the interviewer, for example: emphasise that this is a one-off incident, remind the public that the record was flawless before this etc. This is what Merlin Entertainment did after a group of young adults were severely injured by a roller coaster crash.
Trust us: Avoid asking the audience to "Trust me/us, we'll resolve this." This makes you sound conceited which is unfavourable. The public should be able to form a judgement regarding whether they can trust you from the interview.
Negative language: Negative language should be avoided even if the interviewer has used it. You could be asked "Is this a complete disaster?" Rather than using "disaster", a "baited" word, in your response, say "No, that's incorrect/I disagree…"
Be empathetic: Ensure that you communicate your empathy and show that you are concerned about what has happened even if you are asked hostile questions. Use caring and empathetic language, for example, admit that you're "deeply upset" and then explain that you are working to resolve the situation and improve standards to reduce the chances of this happening again. Regulating your voice can also help show your sincerity.
Example of how not to do it: During the BP oil spill, Tony Hayward said: "There's no one who wants this over more than I do. I'd like my life back." This was an insensitive comment to make considering that 11 rig workers died and many lives have been affected due to the damage the oil spill has caused on the fishing industry.
Result: there was public outrage at the comments and Hayward was replaced as CEO.
Avoid hypothetical or speculative questions: Never speculate on hypothetical situations ("what if" situations). For instance, say you were asked "What will happen to your employees if your company continues to lose money?" If you answered with "I'm unsure, but if I had to guess..." the audience may interpret your answer as a fact. Instead, point out that this is speculation: "I wouldn't want to speculate..." and stick to facts.
Never make absolute promises: Never promise that this incident will never happen again. This can be used against you in the future.
This is a public relations issue: Never bring up your PR team as it may be assumed that you care more about your image rather than the actual problem.