How to Tame that Arrogant Spokesperson

A Sign Of ConflictThere’s nothing more challenging for a crisis management team than an inflexible spokesperson. You can picture it in your mind instantly. This person knows everything, will not take direction, cannot take constructive criticism.

In a crisis, the person who becomes the face of your organization should ooze humility. He or she should represent, with extreme grace and style, your organizational point of view and cultural footprint.

Yesterday the students of Travel and Tourism College, an annual event coordinated by the Texas Travel Industry Association, voiced this challenge in our sessions on crisis management. It seems that many organizations have been faced with an arrogant spokesperson and they were looking for strategies.

How do you tame that arrogance into something workable before your next crisis? This is a tricky problem because if one person is your stumbling block, chances are your team dynamics already has some issues. But there are a few workarounds which might help smooth out the kinks. Here are 6 ideas for crisis managers to try.

Do Group Media Training

Raise the quality of everyone’s interview potential with a group media training session.

Use Mock Interviews to Improve Performance

After that media training session, put your newfound skills to the test and have each member of the group do a mock interview. Record them and do group critiques. It’s the best way to highlight good interviewees and those who need improvement.

Cultivate Multiple Spokespersons

Should the same person ALWAYS represent your organization? That’s a hefty burden and a liability in many cases. By cultivating multiple spokespersons, you spread the burden – and the liability – and eliminate the power structure of a single mouthpiece.

Use Three Key Messages

Maybe you are asking too much of your spokesperson and they have information overload. Limit what they need to transmit to a handful of key messages – no more than three – to keep the interview sharp.

Critique Every Interview

Every interview can be improved. Every spokesperson can learn new things. Critique every interview starting with what went well followed by what could be improved.

Partner Up

Sometimes partnering the arrogant spokesperson with a kinder, gentler person in a two-person interview can help deliver the message. This is a strategy which Kellye Crane of SoloPRPro has used successfully with clients who need softening around the edges.

If you’re having trouble with a spokesperson who is inflexible and can’t take direction, try one of these 6 ideas and see if it makes a difference.

It’s Time to Evolve Media Training

Media Briefing at Our Lady of the Lake University

Media briefing after a devastating fire at Our Lady of the Lake University. Photo courtesy of OLLU.

In the early days of my public relations career, it was an accepted fact that you should train the key people in your organization who may be called upon to speak to the media.

In some organizations, this “training opportunity” was geared to one or a few key executives. In larger organizations, it was often many more, drawing on the philosophy that subject matter experts should be used whenever possible.

There were three reasons to this approach:

  • Rewiring the executive’s brain to think on his feet during a live television interview
  • Educating them on media agenda and news flow
  • Developing key messages for your executive to share during interviews

We all know that approach is a crap shoot.

Some execs are great on camera, some are terrified of it and others should be.  It’s easy for any spokesperson to get off track, be distracted by the technology, or be so loaded down with facts, figures and messages that he or she loses their way in an interview.

During my years on the public relations team at SeaWorld, we minimized the liabilities of individual spokespersons with a rich and varied group from which we could draw when opportunities arose. In this case, more is better and during particularly busy times – like the birth of an animal or the opening of a new exhibit – we could offer news media more variety with more spokespersons.

This thinking was completely geared to traditional media and involved a very linear process of preparation that went something like this:

  1. News media calls.

    Elected Official giving a Press Conference

    Easter Press Conference with Ruth Jones McLendon on Minority Cancer Awareness Month. Photo courtesy of Write Counsel.

  2. PR person negotiates details of date, location, time, spokesperson.
  3. Spokesperson is prepared.
  4. News media arrives.
  5. Interview/live shot/taping occurs.
  6. News media departs.
  7. Interview runs.
  8. Opportunity is evaluated.

Now that the news cycle is round-the-clock and everyone is a publisher, it’s time to change the approach and the process.

If organizational communications are to succeed in the next 10 years, every person in the organization needs to understand the “why” of the organization AND be able to communicate it.  While media training will still serve an organization well when preparing for 60 Minutes or CNN, each organization has opportunities EVERY DAY in which to tell its message, online and IRL – in real life — in the community.

This means organizations need to invest in developing media literacy skills for its employees. Preparing them to respond and empowering employees to tell the organization’s story will go farther in advancing the organization’s identity than traditional media training achieves today.

Does your organization empower your employees to represent online or in real life? Tell us what strategies are working for you.