How inept spokespeople can sink your best PR efforts

Poor discipline or simply a lack of elementary training could turn that cherished media interview into a nightmare. Help your execs and mouthpieces head off these common missteps.

You’ve finally hit the “send” button, and the announcement you’ve worked on for weeks is finally out.

It’s newsworthy, it’s fresh, and you know you’ll get interview requests from media outlets. It will be great for your company’s brand and reputation, it could force your competitors to scramble, and you and the rest of the communications team will look like superstars.

Sure enough, the media calls start pouring in. You line up your spokespeople, equipping them with shiny copies of the storyline and messaging. Now, all that’s left is for them to deliver, and for reporters to write the story accurately. Nothing can go wrong.

Not so fast

When you check your phone for the latest headlines, though, you start noticing your story isn’t being told well at all. Big, obvious messages are being missed. Your spokespeople aren’t being quoted very much, and when they are, the comments are basic, bland or boring.

Then, your phone starts ringing. Your boss calls, then your business partner. They have one question for you: What happened?

If that sounds familiar, there’s a good chance that the one gap in your PR strategy is that your spokesperson either hasn’t been trained on how to give media interviews or could use a significant refresher.

Asking someone untrained to be your spokesperson on a big announcement is like asking an amateur to drive in a Formula 1 race: The car might be an elegant thing of engineering beauty, but the driver is as likely to forget to switch gears as he or she is to crash into a wall.

Here are just a few ways untrained spokespeople can unwittingly sabotage your PR plans:

They ad lib

A common spokesperson misstep is adding superfluous commentary that is irrelevant to the narrative, announcement or news you’re discussing. It’s not a personalized turn of phrase, or an interesting data point to bolster the story, but an instance when a spokesperson hypothesizes about what the announcement might mean to the industry, gets facts wrong or exaggerates the importance of the news.

For example, you’ve just announced that you will use chatbots to deliver customer service. It’s a nice, yet modest, bit of innovation for your company, so your spokesperson will sound tone deaf if he or she calls the announcement “a revolutionary technology that will cement our place as an industry leader.” Chatbots are no longer revolutionary, nor are you an industry leader if you’re just launching them now.

Reporters know this, and as a result your spokesperson won’t get quoted in the story. What’s more, the time spent self-congratulating takes away from delivering the messages that actually matter to your audiences: It will now take less time to address common customer service issues (consumer message), and chatbots are very cost-effective (investor message).

It’s important to show, rather than tell. Instead of simply saying chatbots are amazing, imagine your spokesperson says this: “An average customer currently spends 20 minutes dealing with us on the phone to resolve an issue. Our chatbot lets you skip the wait time for the most common problems, so the resolution time gets cut in about half.” That’s much better, right?

They don’t understand their role in the story

An effective spokesperson tells a compelling story in a way that is appropriate to the audience he or she is facing. They should not be doing the interview to build their own profile; that’s a happy by-product that accumulates over time. They’re also not there to ignore the reporter’s questions and hammer away at a scripted set of key messages they’ve decided is most important.

Trained, polished and effective spokespeople realize that they and their brand come out ahead when they focus on providing value to the audience. That’s what the reporter covering your announcement most often focuses on, and your spokespeople should focus on it, too. Their job is to inform, contextualize and, if the subject matter permits it, entertain.

If your spokespeople don’t do this, the storyline will not land, they will rarely be quoted, and the reporter who just interviewed them might reconsider covering your news at all.

They have poor delivery

If you’re not good on camera, you shouldn’t be on camera. Spokespeople who don’t know how to tell a story using short, simple and quotable sentences can also be a major problem in print interviews. Long-winded answers containing unnecessarily complex vocabulary choices don’t do anyone any favors. Reporters tune out, the message gets lost, and the audience doesn’t get to hear a good story.

How training can help

Practice really does make perfect when it comes to media interviews. Regular training and refresher sessions using either your in-house team or an external expert can be a big help in addressing and avoiding the above-mentioned pitfalls.

Company spokespeople are eager to conduct dry runs of crisis scenarios to ensure they’re prepared for a misstep or emergency. However, fewer are willing to invest time to practice media interviews regarding good news or to refine how they present information to journalists more generally. One would hope that the average company conducts a far greater number of positive interviews regarding its products, services and expertise.

Organizations are leaving significant value on the table by neglecting to train their go-to spokespeople. Having a group of polished, prepared and knowledgeable storytellers at your disposal can differentiate you from your competition and elevate your brand.

After all, if reporters see your spokespeople as more interesting, entertaining or informative than those of the competition, you can bet your media relations phone line will be ringing with greater frequency.

A version of this article originally appeared on Provident Communications.

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Topics: PR

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