In times of trouble, or times of transition, we expect the president or CEO to be the delivering the messages. Sure – if the news is big enough. But the CEO doesn’t always have to be or organization’s spokesperson. In fact, there are several scenarios in which that can hurt your organization.
For example, your CEO plain and simple just isn’t great on camera. That’s ok… for now. He or she is there to run the business of your organization. A communications director will often serve as the official spokesperson for an organization, sharing messages from and approved by the CEO. But your leader can’t stay away from the cameras and microphones forever – so be sure to bring in a trusted expert for some ongoing media training.
And then there are, “subject matter” experts. These are folks who know their department extraordinarily well, and would only speak on one specific topic – but when they do, they do it better than anyone else. This can improve the quality of the story you’re sharing, and make your organization appear more human by showcasing a select few individuals who truly walk what would otherwise just be your talk.
And even when facing true disaster, it can make or break the future of your organization if you don’t take the time to determine who the best spokesperson is for the scenario. Take the BP oil spill of 2010. The organization assumed that CEO Tony Hayward should speak to all press. But what a mistake that was! Not only was he not prepared, he wasn’t empathetic. He certainly wasn’t one of us. There was, however, a brief period of time when a few local executives from entities like BP America, conducted a few media interviews. They faced tough questions, but they lived and worked in the impacted area, they spoke simply and honestly, and they were compassionate. That’s who should have been representing the company from the beginning. At least in the US. But… it was too late. The company had already put the CEO out there, and once the public sees the CEO, you can’t take him or her away and go down the ladder for another spokesperson.
Remember that: you can always work your way up to the president or CEO as a situation escalates, but you can never go down. It only creates suspicion from the media and the public, who will fear that your organization is now hiding something.
Whatever you do, don’t wait until the media is calling (or at your door) to think about who your spokesperson and “subject matter” experts should be. Do it now, when you can give it the consideration this significant decision truly deserves. And then be sure communicate the protocol with everyone internally and conduct media training, even informally, so that your team is ready.