Regardless of whether it is a legislative press conference, congressional testimony or a television commercial, both your message and the person who delivers that message are critical. The person you place in front of the media on behalf of your organization might not be the obvious choice, like the association president or CEO.
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The first rule when choosing an effective spokesperson: do no harm. Avoid unnecessary risks and be prepared. Even one person who is unprepared can cause significant harm to your organization. Different types of spokespersons can include public relations staff, state or chapter officials, the head of the organization, individual members or employees, administration officials and subject matter experts. The best course of action is to identify and train prospective spokespersons on a year-around basis so you are ready and have more than one choice. This makes it possible for you to respond to media opportunities much more quickly.
When selecting a spokesperson, the ideal is to strike a balance between two different spokesperson types: the “professional” spokesperson such as the CEO, and the constituent or grassroots type. Asking yourself the following questions can assist in identifying the right person in advance:
Does the person have the authority to speak on behalf of the organization? In the event any kind of clearance is needed, you must know how long that will take. In an ideal situation, you develop a list of credible spokespersons well in advance of any congressional testimony or press opportunities.
Does the person have any type of negative personal history that might discredit them? If yes, what is the worst case scenario? It is always important to conduct your own research ahead of time, including asking the person directly so you can be completely prepared.
Is the person’s opinion on the issue consistent with that of the organization?
What is the worst case scenario that could occur if you choose this person as a spokesperson?
How will opposing interests view your spokesperson?
Asking yourself these critical questions before a crisis can help guide you in the selection of a spokesperson who is prepared and credible.
To learn more about dealing with the media, consider our Advanced Media Relations Workshop.
Reference: Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelak, Sections 10.8 and 10.9, Media Relations
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