The question of how to choose the right spokesperson is one of the essential ones of the art of successful public relations. On one hand, it has been observed that if the spokesperson is too senior, clients are likely to conclude that the topic is more serious than they thought. On the other hand, the public will assume that your company does not take the issue seriously enough if your spokesperson is too low in the company’s hierarchy. Either way, you don’t want to pick the wrong spokesperson as your company’s standing will be harmed in both cases.
Brad Phillips highlights the outmost importance of the spokesperson’s choice in his recent PR Tactics article, “The Spokesperson You Choose Speaks Volumes.” He underlines that a company sends an indirect but clear message to the public with their spokesperson’s choice.
But how do you find the right, and more importantly appropriate, spokesperson for a crisis? The bigger the crisis, the more senior the spokesperson is Phillips’ rule of thumb. But, in the case of a large-scale tragedy, such as reputation-defining events, it might be better for the company if the CEO is the spokesperson from the beginning to publicly show that the crisis is taken very seriously.
A newer approach to crisis management as described by Jane Jordan Meier advises company’s to use a two-pronged strategy during more severe crises. She advises that a senior manager together with a key technical staff should be chosen as spokespeople. Thus, the company sends the message of utter importance and that the senior management is accountable for the development. Additionally, the technical staff can explain in detail what has happened and how the crisis will be resolved. Hence, the public is reassured in simultaneous two ways, restoring the confidence into the company faster. Moreover, this strategy has the advantage that different spokespersons can be chosen for different topics of expertise allowing an even better representation towards the public.
Nevertheless, it should never be forgotten that for broadcast interviews the charisma of a person is often more important than the spokesperson’s actual knowledge of the topic. Highly qualified but less charismatic experts are the right choice for print interviews. But regardless how senior or how expert your spokesperson is, it is of no value to the company if he or she does not manage to deliver company’s message with compassion and trustworthiness. The public has to believe in the credibility your spokesperson no matter what.
Finally, never underestimate the importance of the choice of your spokesperson as the right choice can help your company tremendously, but also harm your standing if not chosen wisely.