There was a time when public relations teams sought the services of one perfect spokesperson to act as the media “face” of a B2B or B2C company. This often required a long search, a sizeable investment of time and budget, and sometimes, a less-than-stellar performance as the interviews or resulting stories fell short.
Experience working with many different kinds of brand spokespersons, from boldface names to how-to bloggers, is a good reason to bring on a PR agency. That’s because hiring a PR spokesperson is a big commitment, and it’s nearly always a risk. Even after meticulous planning and vetting, the best relationships don’t always go as planned. It may be that a “hired gun” celebrity name can’t believably connect to the brand. Or maybe there’s an expert with too many other commitments, causing your product message to be shoehorned into a TV segment with several others. Then there’s the charisma-challenged authority, like a qualified medical expert or financial expert, who has mastered the material but fails to make it accessible.
Our advice here? Cut your losses as quickly as you can and course-correct. Spokesperson agreements should always have an “out,” and a full-blown message training should be part of the deal, even for a professional performer.
Here are some pointers for working with media spokespersons, both inside a company and through a paid relationship.
“Horses for courses.” A favorite colleague used to say this, meaning that different people are suited for different things, and it’s often PR’s job to figure that out. We represented the founder of a company that had a terrific first year in business. When he worked a trade show and glad-handed customers and salespeople, he was superb. Interviews with newspapers and business pubs were more of a challenge, yet these reporters often demand to speak to a senior executive. As a result, we groomed another high-level player in the company for media interviews. This individual had a different kind of expertise and was better able to handle the more serious interviews, while reserving the founder for situations helped by his folksier approach.
Contrary to what you may think. Whether it’s man bites dog or Trump running for President, the unexpected is often the most compelling. We work with a client that has developed a personal safety device whose target user is a teen girl and target purchaser is her mom. We devoted time to a concerted search to find a perfect celebrity mom to act as broadcast spokesperson. After digging more deeply into the prospective customer’s mindset and the needs of media who cover the category, we realized that the best spokesperson might actually be a dad. Not only would a father be very motivated to discuss how to keep young women safe, but as the slightly less-expected choice, fathers are very appealing to media. It helped that we had a prominent security expert on our team, and with a little training, he is proving to be a media asset.
The genuine article. Sometimes the most genuine brand spokespeople aren’t spokespeople at all, but authentic fans who can represent it in a very positive way. By scouring social media on behalf of a brewery client, we became aware of a talented mixologist with an impressive pedigree and a devotion to our client’s products. When he speaks about the brand, it’s from the heart. His sincerity makes for a better soundbite (with pun intended) than all the media training and key messages we could provide.
The right spokesperson strategy requires a deft touch and the ability to correctly assess both media and customer response. The ideal situation provides the opportunity to work with select representatives to get across different company and brand messages – and remember, sometimes they aren’t who you’d expect.