Wed 16 May 2012
Media savvy business owners versed in public relations often have taken the time and effort to set up a media “chain of command,” designating whom is to speak if reporters or the media come calling. With some South Florida businesses – and those nationally, only the owner or most senior executive is licensed to speak.
For good reason. By establishing a “single voice” for the organization, it’s easier to ensure that the comments and information flow is consistent. What’s more, with comments coming from the president, the CEO or the chairman, the organization – by virtue of the comments themselves – gets positioned in the best light.
Follow the tips below to ensure your organization handles public comments wisely by finding the right partner, staffer or executive to speak publicly…
Decide who takes calls from the media. Is this the CEO or managing partner? Is it the president? If an organization has “co-leaders,” are both versed in the company line and appropriate to handle media calls? Decide before the call comes.
Set a media “chain of command” for when a reporter calls and asks, “Can I speak with someone who handles calls from the media.” Receptionist, admins or anyone answering the phones should know to never offer any commentary; instead, the caller should be transferred or directed to the one individual designated to take such calls (even if the person is not a quotable source, for example, a marketing director or publicist, who will facilitate the call).
If the “spokesperson” is not available, establish guidelines regarding who can represent the company and speak to the media instead. This should be a very select group – possibly only the most senior executives, and then, only after getting sample questions and after preparing for the interview.
Prepare before – and during – crises. Bad things can happen to good companies. Plan for a crisis. Have a game plan – who will answer calls, and how your crisis communications public relations team will help. If you don’t know a crisis communications firm, ask around your peer groups for a few recommendations and do some preliminary interviews – before you need them. “Preparing” includes media training. Knowing what – or what not – to say to the media doesn’t come naturally to all people. Sometimes, working with a public relations firm in advance on media training – that is, role-playing to discover what questions you might encounter and how to answer them – can help make executives comfortable being interviewed.
Avoid saying, “No comment” in response to a reporter’s question. It may appear the company is hiding information or avoiding the issue. Instead, say “We’re still looking into this matter and will gladly respond once we’ve learned more.”
This is not to say that a law firm with 75 attorneys wouldn’t be very well served by letting a department chair comment on a case or a specific topic when contacted by a reporter. Same goes for a business with vice presidents or managers highly knowledgeable in areas of interest to reporters. We’ll discuss this in our next blog: “When Expert Employees Must Be Released to Serve as Spokespeople.”