It is often assumed the CEO or chief executive will front a crisis media management situation.
But, although they should be visible, that does not mean they have to be the spokesperson.
Sometimes they may simply not be comfortable in that environment and on some occasions they may not have the necessary technical knowledge.
And it is worth considering that if you always start at the top, where do you go if the crisis escalates?
So if it doesn’t have to be the boss, who should you turn to when you have to deal with bad news?
We have identified eight points you should consider when choosing your crisis spokesperson:
When you are facing the full glare of the media you need someone who is compelling and enigmatic. Someone who is able to connect with the audience and remain calm under intense pressure. During our media training and crisis communication courses we often find it is not the most senior or confident member of the team who performs best in the spotlight. Sometimes the rising stars of organisation, for example, can be the most captivating.
Your spokesperson will need to have expert knowledge of both the organisation, the sector and what has happened. If the crisis has been caused by a large IT failure, the IT Director should be well placed to lead the media response. If the story centres on job losses, the Human Resources Director could be the best person. Different topics are likely to require different spokespeople.
A crisis media management situation is a daunting environment which requires an experienced spokesperson. The pressure will be more intense than other interview situations and reporters will be more demanding than ever. As well as experience, it is also imperative they have had recent practical media training with journalists putting them under pressure.
Your crisis spokesperson needs to be able to show the audience they care. To achieve this they must convey passion and communicate with humility and compassion. This will help create a bond with the audience and mean it is more likely your customers remain supportive.
If your crisis is localised it is important to consider using a regional spokesperson. Not only are there obvious logistical advantages, but it can also play an important role in engaging and winning the trust of the audience. When your spokesperson is able to say something along the lines of ‘as someone who lives in the area’ it shows a connection and a commitment to the region. Television and radio stations love to include local voices in their bulletins.
What your spokesperson says is obviously vital, but effective body language plays a key role in how they are perceived. It is important your spokesperson is able to maintain strong eye contact with reporters and is not prone to nodding their head when a reporter is talking as this suggests agreement with what is being said. Folded arms make spokespeople appear defensive and must be avoided. A professional appearance is also vital.
More than one
If multiple sites have been affected by the crisis or the situation is likely to last several days you are simply not going to be able to meet the media demand by having just one spokesperson. That’s why it is important to have a number of senior leaders from the organisation who have had recent practical media training and are confident dealing with the media in a crisis.
It may sound obvious, but you need a spokesperson who is available and able to respond quickly to the media demand and understands what the media needs. There is no value in a spokesperson who is not prepared to leave a meeting, no matter how important, to face the media. If the spokesperson has to travel long distances to talk to journalists, the media will find other people to talk to while they wait, leading to speculation and rumour.
Download our FREE eBook to find out more about planning for a crisis. It includes a checklist to helping you identify the right spokesperson, messaging templates and a risk register to help you identify your organisation’s vulnerabilities.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
Click here to find out more about our highly practical crisis communication training.
Subscribe here to be among the first to receive our blogs.