Over the years you will have been told that it’s always better to put someone ‘on the frontline’ in front of the media – and this advice is still true. It’s clearly a better choice than a faceless spokesman, and a country mile better than using someone from your news or public relations agency, but let’s be quite clear: ‘frontline’ can mean the boss – but it doesn’t necessarily always need to be.
The right tone, and the person with the right tone, is so much more important than it being the most senior person you can throw at the media.
Recently we’ve seen some awful CEO performances – BP’s chief executive just doesn’t know how to speak ‘American’ – and shouldn’t be allowed to: he doesn’t get that what Britons perceive as a stiff-upper-lip, ‘get on with the job resolve’, can be seen in America as being uncaring. Tony Haywood would need to be blubbing to really touch the cord of deep sorrow that is expected of him presently. That’s something that he probably can’t do.
From a Brit to an American, Mark Zuckerberg is an appalling frontman for Facebook. He’s a geek, born and bred. His geeky humour and track-record of speaking straight from his dorm room instead of his boardroom is not what’s needed from one of the world’s most connected brands; especially when it’s fighting an uphill PR battle against the power privacy lobby.
Given the amount of times that bosses make awful PR gaffes, you’d think that agencies the world over would wise up to the mantra of picking the right person for the right job. Of course, it’s not always the agency that makes this choice – but the top-down ethos that only the most senior person in the organisation can be a viable spokesperson is inappropriate for today’s media landscape.
Think wisely about your message and work with your PR and media agencies to hone a message and a tone that’s appropriate for your audience. Don’t box yourself in to being the lead voice – being the media face of a corporation simply isn’t for everyone, and it’s not even always appropriate for the organisation. A spread of faces who understand their areas of specialism and speak the language of that niche are going to make your communications strategy far easier to manage than a one size fits all approach.
Most importantly – never forget that the time when this strategy will be tested the most is under crisis conditions: so plan right from the beginning to spread the load, control the message and make it appropriate for your audience to avoid the awfulness of saying something, or being heard to say something – whether you meant it or not, that you later regret, and your shareholders regret even more.
Neil Evans is Senior Partner and Creative Director of Vivid London.
Image by Anisha Chandarana, Junior Design Staff at Vivid London.