A Spokesperson’s Balancing Act


Donald P. Mazzella, COO & Editorial Director, Information Strategies, Inc.

A company spokesperson has two key audiences: external and internal.

Balancing these two segments is the key to success in this role.

Internally, the overriding desire is to present the company in the best possible light as the marketplace requires more and more information disclosure.

Externally, the demand for data is sometimes at odds with what the company can or should disclosed. As the external point of contact, the spokesperson needs to be the funnel through which this stream is funneled.

Often, it falls on the spokesperson to shape this public message with data at variance with C-suite inclination to keep it confidential.

When the public, in the form of media demands, is hostile or dubious, this challenge can defeat even the best spokesperson.

Since the current administration has not established  a positive relationship with key media, it has fallen to the spokesperson to put executive branch’s best foot forward. In times of internal conflict, it has been suggested senior government officials have not heeded the suggestions of the spokesperson. The result has been the turnover in personnel assigned to this task.

Happily, most companies do not have this negative media problem. What faces them are increasingly diverse media channels, each with their own agendas.  This trend has made it difficult for spokespersons to establish working relationships with key media contacts. Given the diversity of possible information demands, their role has become one of putting out fires rather than creating positive relationships with those media outlets key to the company’s growth.

Successful spokespersons, establish trust with senior management and a track record of creating positive coverage from key media outlets that shape opinion within their industries and governmental overseers.

Spokespersons are most needed in times of stress caused by negative events. They are also critical to effective management of company responses in these times of crisis.

There are several components to this effort. In a recent convocation of media relation executives, the following points were cited as key to helping companies succeed in their efforts.

They include:

  • Understand that media relations is a long term effort, and individual events should not eclipse overall efforts.
  • Requires the company speak through only designated officials, preferably just one.
  • Spokesperson inclusion during internal discussions shaping company responses.
  • Personal interaction is important along with immediate response to any query.
  • Timely disclosure of information is best in any situation.
  • Internal communication with all employees and clear outlines of proprietary limits.
  • Vetting of all written or oral statements before they are shared with the public.

Equally important, a spokesperson can serve as a valuable tool to build a positive brand.

Again, turning to the recent conclave, these thoughts emerged as to what are spokesperson long-term priorities to ensure company success:

  • Identify key media outlets crucial to trumpeting the company’s efforts.
  • Have the confidence, ear of senior managers.
  • Disclosure of any information should go through the spokesperson.
  • All employees should know the role, responsibilities, efforts of the spokesperson.
  • Outline to all employees what is proprietary information.
  • Always respond quickly to queries but establish a priority list of media outlets.
  • Vet all personal appearances before they occur and not fight disclosures.
  • Above, all be assessable to company personnel at all times.

While all of the above seems reasonable, it is surprising how many of them are violated in the breach to the regret of companies large and small.

Donald P. Mazzella, COO & Editorial Director, Information Strategies, Inc.About the Author: Donald P. Mazzella won a National Press Club award for best consumer story as leader of Income Opportunities magazine which was owned by Essence Communications. He has previous senior management experience with Thomson-Reuters, McGraw-Hill and Informatics in both the editorial and marketing functions. He is host of two radio programs, Small Business Digest and About the World and is heard on Fox radio. His latest book is An American Family Sampler from ibooks Press; he co-authored a book on marketing to small business, The Janus Principle, Focusing Your Company On Selling To Small Business. He is a long time board member and past Treasurer of the Compassionate Care Foundation of New Jersey, a medical marijuana non-profit dispensary and the National Robotics Education Foundation.  He holds BA, MA and MBA degrees from New York University.