Why your CEO shouldn't always be your spokesperson in a crisis

When an organisation finds itself in a crisis you can almost guarantee that the chief executive or company chairman will be thrust in front of the media glare as the spokesperson.

And it’s easy to understand why this is the case – the organisation’s share price and reputation is on the line so why wouldn’t it turn to its most authoritative figure?

Some, of course, are very good at it. Sir Richard Branson, for example, is widely regarded as a crisis communications expert having led his company through the Virgin train crash in Cumbria in 2009 and the Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crash in the Mojave Desert in 2014.

Others are memorable for all the wrong reasons. Who could forget Tony Hayward’s horrendous handling of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 and his infamous ‘I’d like my life back’ comment?

The fact is that the most senior person in the organisation is not always the best person to be put in front of the media. They may be a great leader but that does not necessarily mean they are effective media communicators.

In a crisis you need someone who can demonstrate compassion, authority and honesty and be able to connect with your audience.

They need to have a detailed understanding of the organisation and its sector and it is essential they have previous media experience and had recent practical media training with current working journalist tutors.

If the crisis is a tragic accident with multiple deaths, the head of the organisation needs to be there to show they care and are accountable. If, to give another example, your crisis is a large IT failure leaving customers unable to access a service, would your IT director not be placed to lead the media response? They would still offer a senior, credible voice and would have the benefit of being an expert in that particular area.

Some crises will naturally require you to have more than one spokesperson. If multiple sites have been affected or the situation is likely to last several days you cannot possibly meet the demands of the media by just using your chief executive.

If your crisis is localised you should consider deploying a regional spokesperson. They can help you engage and win the trust of the audience and show a connection and commitment to the area and the people who live there.

Remember, if a problem escalates then you can always bring the chief executive into play, but use them at the start and you have nowhere to go when things get worse.

Don’t dilute their impact by using them every time you are in a crisis situation. Identify where it is best to use them and develop the media skills and experience of other senior colleagues in the organisation so that you have a pool of trained and experienced spokespeople and are able to choose the right one for the right situation.

 

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 Media Skills courses.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for more hints, tips and blogs.

Our Services

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.

Ways - Online learning
Ways - Videoconference
Ways - Blended
Ways - In-Person
Training by videoconference
Identifying positive media stories
How to film and edit professional video on a mobile
Media skills refresher
Blended media skills
TV studios
Crisis communications
Presentation skills and personal impact
Media training
Message development and testing
Presentation Skills Training
Crisis communication training
Crisis management testing
Leadership Communication Training
Writing skills training
Social media training
Online learning
Open Courses
Media myth-busting & interview ‘survival’ skills workshop

Recommended Reading

Media Skills Training, Spokesperson training — 13 June by Adam Fisher

What media training lessons can you lean from this ‘ridiculous’ interview?

Imagine a journalist describes your spokesperson’s interview as “ridiculous”. Then consider an adviser intervenes and brings the questioning to a halt. You don’t need us to tell you the outcome is…

Media Skills Training, Spokesperson training — 28 May by Adam Fisher

Why radio interviews have never been more important

Are radio interviews part of your comms and PR strategy? The latest audience figures suggest they should be because more people are listening to radio than ever before. According to RAJAR – the…