Cliff Maroney November 11, 2020 | 02:05:15

PR Tips For A Deep Media Spokesperson Bench

In B2B public relations, there are few assets more valuable than a terrific media spokesperson. PR teams depend on a company or brand representative who can deliver a quick, incisive comment about a breaking news story or deep insights about a company move. For some organizations, the CEO or founder is the best spokesperson due to broad-based knowledge and presumed clout with media. Yet CEOs aren’t always available for interviews, and depending on a company’s size, they are most appropriate only for specific opportunities

Given that each story angle is different and every organization has its own internal structure, most can benefit from a deep media spokesperson bench that extends beyond the C-suite. Unfortunately, with overlapping areas of expertise and internal politics — not to mention those pesky scheduling conflicts — identifying the best spokesperson for each story or opportunity can be a challenge.

With that in mind, here are some ways for PR pros and their clients build out an extended “bench” of company spokespeople.

Start with key topics, then expand

It’s rare for a company to be limited to only one type of story. For example, an ad tech startup may be suited for topics from native advertising to GDPR, while a professional services firm can fit stories about anything from compliance to forensic accounting. This can make things complicated, but it presents a great opportunity to diversify spokespersons and convey an organization’s collective expertise. By establishing a spokesperson matrix that includes a go-to expert for each topic, you can “spread the love” and give more execs a chance in the spotlight. A disciplined approach also offers spokespersons peace of mind because they know exactly what kind of topics they will be offered to speak about.

Identify the most prepared speakers

Building a spokespeople bench — especially at large professional services companies — can be overwhelming. But even the most brilliant expert may flounder if they are not prepared. PR teams can narrow the field by determining which execs have been recently trained and who understands the media process. If no one has been formally coached, don’t worry. Look for team members who have previous media experience or who are comfortable in external speaking situations like conference presentations or sales calls; these people often make great spokespersons and might not even know it. The PR team may need to coach sales or marketing people to tone down commercial messaging in favor of thoughtful insights that offer news value, but that can often be done with message-point preparation.

Consider double-teaming experts

Sometimes there isn’t one specific individual that fits perfectly for a given story…and that’s okay. Most media briefings are between one client contact and one journalist, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, multiple spokespersons can cover the different aspects of a story more fully than any one executive, and a group call or meeting can be a time-efficient solution for the journalist. This type of situation is relatively common in professional services companies or law firms, where there are deep and overlapping vertical specialists who cover many areas. For example, a new government regulation in financial services may impact banks, investment firms, or credit unions differently. Therefore, it may make sense to have an expert in each type of financial institution on a call to fill in the gaps.

Start small 

Many client-side team members are happy to help out by speaking with media. Some are eager to do so even if they’re not very experienced. That’s why it’s important to start small. Like an out-of-town tryout before a show opens on Broadway, a series of trade media interviews could be a fine first step for a new brand spokesperson. This is particularly true for broadcast media opportunities; it helps to build a “reel” of small but respectable digital video interviews before tackling the larger networks like Bloomberg or Fox Business. 

PR teams should also point out when someone is not the best fit for an opportunity. We speak up if another team member is better suited to discuss a topic or should join a media call. This ensures that the journalist gets what they need and that the company’s POV and expertise is highlighted, and helps spread  out any spokesperson anxiety.

Encourage honest feedback

We make it a practice to staff every client media interview, and we often record them for information purposes. That’s helpful in offering immediate and constructive feedback to company spokespersons. Detailed feedback is very important for all media spokespersons, especially those who are less experienced. So don’t hold back – make it positive, thorough, and actionable, and you will build the spokesperson bench as time goes on. 

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