The prospect of being interviewed by a reporter creates anxiety in even the most confident professional charged with serving as an organization’s primary voice in communicating with media. Training helps increase the likelihood that this spokesperson relays an organization’s key messages clearly, and in a manner that fits a journalist’s needs. Understanding the three spokesperson roles—expert, educator, and salesperson—is the first and most important component of this training.
As the individual to be interviewed, the designated spokesperson is the one who the reporter wants to speak to about a topic at a certain time. There’s no one else. The spokesperson has the knowledge and perspective needed by the reporter to write a story. In other words, the reporter considers the spokesperson an expert.
As an educator, it’s the spokesperson’s responsibility to offer insight to a reporter so that he or she emerges with a clearer understanding of the topic. Reporters vary in journalistic experience and subject matter knowledge. Even the most experienced reporter doesn’t know everything. An effective spokesperson has access to information and perspective the reporter doesn’t have, particularly regarding company activities and industry trends. As an educator, the spokesperson acknowledges the reporter’s expertise and crafts the content and delivery of his or her remarks accordingly. The main challenge here is for the spokesperson to share information without seeming patronizing or arrogant.
Finally, the spokesperson is a salesperson for the organization, cause, product, or service. Public relations and other professionals approach reporters with stories because they see the media as a powerful means of communicating what their organizations have to offer to individuals who belong to key audiences. This “spokesperson as salesperson” role demands an enthusiastic, energetic communication style.
However, it’s imperative to recognize that reporters do not want to be sold, as a salesperson would attempt to persuade a prospective client about a product’s merits. Their goal is to write stories of interest to readers, viewers, or listeners, depending on the media. A reporter's purpose is to serve this audience, NOT to do a commercial for a company. That’s why the salesperson role comes third, after the expert and educator. More importantly, the most effective organizational spokespersons mute their marketing and sales orientation when they talk to reporters, highlighting what the subject of the interview means to the reporter’s audience while avoiding a treatise on why their company’s offerings are the best.
In all three roles, the spokesperson’s goal is to provide useful information that meets a reporter’s needs and communicates an organization’s key messages. It’s admittedly challenging to balance these tasks against filling the three roles identified – but invaluable over the long term for building productive media relationships that in turn serve marketing and broader organizational objectives.