With the media being an integral part of our daily lives, no organisation- big, medium or small- can afford not to be media savvy. Although the media can be a tool with which an organisation can disseminate information to an organisation’s stakeholders, the media can also serve to alter public perception of the said organisation by casting it in a bad light, for instance, in the case of an oil firm, reporting on an oil spillage and whipping up emotions against the firm. How such a firm counters the negative reporting may make or break it, or at the very least, dent its brand image.
Enter the spokesperson.
The spokesperson is the person officially designated to interact with the media- be it sharing information, issuing communication on a crisis, public relations and so on. As a rule of thumb, it isn’t always the CEO, rather, someone in the senior cadre but who can speak authoritatively.
Now to an analogy. In Country X, we have a central government headed by the president and who is assisted by a deputy president, cabinet secretaries, principal secretaries and so on. We also have devolved counties headed by governors and who are assisted by deputy governors and their county executives in charge of the various departments such as health, agriculture, roads, etc. It is only to be expected that the president would address the nation directly in the event of a national disaster, say, widespread famine in the country.
Let’s now imagine that a certain road in County Y is in a state of disrepair and users of that road demonstrate and block the road. The media comes in and reports the situation; they cite corruption as the main cause of the road being in disrepair, with the effect of portraying the county’s government as inept and corrupt. That is one side of the story.
Well, the county government gets hold of the story. Naturally, it sends the executive in charge of roads to counter the narrative that is awash in the media. The executive says that funds were allocated for the road but the contractor has been dilly-dallying. He shares documents to be verified by the panellist interviewing him. Fact is, they are sourcing for a more competent contractor to do road repairs. And with his side of the story, he portrays the county government as competent, only that it is dealing with incompetent contractors. Thus, he is able to contain the story before it can further damage the reputation of his county government. Or does he?
First things first. Was he the right spokesperson to address the media on this issue? In terms of authority, being in senior management qualifies him for the task, without making the story bigger than it is by, for example, having the governor respond to the story. Secondly, as the executive in charge of roads, he has the technical details at his fingertips, thus he can break down the facts and figures convincingly. Then again, is he credible or does he come out as dodgy when answering questions? Does he have the charisma to win audiences to his side of the story? If the answer is yes, then the organisation has a great spokesperson. If no, the organisation needs to invest in media training for its key personnel.
In a nutshell, media training involves imparting the requisite skills to key people in an organisation such that they can optimise fully the various media at their disposal. These media include radio, TV, press releases, print, social media and so on. Once trained, they can then be able to formulate a media strategy for wider outreach in disseminating their various key messages to their various audiences. And the spokesperson skills are enhanced too in the process.