How to build your roster of comms experts

It’s about more than just the message — you also need the right people to share it.

It’s important to have your messaging pinned down. But it’s just as important to have the right person communicating your story to the world as well. Finding the right spokesperson is quite a bit more complex than just trotting out anyone to spout off some nice-sounding words — there’s a lot of depth that comes into play. If, for example, you’re communicating the launch of a new product, the spokesperson must know about the media covering the event, how to answer tough questions about your product and the right organizational tone that will speak to your audience.

Here are some factors to keep in mind when choosing the right messenger for the right message.

Training for the moment

When you’re communicating to the world and you’re seeking to nail down the voice of the organization, it’s imperative that the person you’re choosing to communicate is media literate. If the person communicating isn’t fully prepared and on message, it can lead to embarrassment. Media training can help comms pros know exactly what points they’re supposed to hit in a given media piece or appearance and what points to avoid.

In many instances, organizations will arrange for their chosen spokespeople to go through media training with comms pros who know the media space well. They’ll help drive home the talking points, and in some cases, will do a test tape to see how a spokesperson tests on camera for video content. But with the ever-shifting media landscape, it’s sometimes prudent to provide touch-ups on media training, and debriefs should be given to spokespeople ahead of appearances so they know both the outlet and the reporter they’re working with. A prepared voice is generally a steady one to have behind a message.

Doing your homework

When you’re picking your roster of experts, it’s just as important that they know who they’re telling the story to as their knowledge of the message itself. They should be aware of the journalists and publications that cover the issues so they can best tailor the messages. For instance, an in-depth interview with a trade publication will read much differently than a quick quote for a national one, and it’s important to the communicator to know that.

In addition, different skill sets are going to be better for different types of media interviews. Think of the person in the organization who might be a ball of personality and knows the company mission backward and forward. They might be best suited for a video appearance. Perhaps there’s also someone on the team who is more statistically inclined and can describe complex functions with ease. They might be better for a magazine interview that can go into lots of depth. It’s up to the comms pros in the building to figure out who is right for what role and to use those skills properly, which happens through comprehensive training and the development and identification of communications skills.

Navigating the narrative

One of the biggest roles a chosen spokesperson can play is the molding of the story’s perspective. They’ve got the power not only to tell the story but to help determine how it’s received. Much of the challenge of being a great communicator of a story is knowing how to frame it properly. Proper media training can account for some of that ability. But media people need to be agile and able to respond to unexpected questions and have no apprehension when it comes to fielding tough questions from the media.

It’s also important not to stray from the organization’s messaging. In fast-paced interviews, it can be tempting to ad-lib. It’s important to stay on track, and prior training can come in handy. Focus on what the message is, and stick to it, even when the temptation is there to off-script in response to a question. It’s a tough skill to master and takes time and discipline, but it’s important.

As communicators, it’s our job to tell the stories of our organization. Sounds pretty simple, right? But when you’re picking the person or people to spread that message, you need to be sure that they’re prepared, they know their material, and they have the power to control perception. Don’t just pick a roster of experts because they’re there — be sure to vet them and help them be ready when the moment to shine comes.

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

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