media update’s Nakedi Phala takes you through important notes that you should be aware of when working as a spokesperson. Being a spokesperson means you’re in charge of decoding your client’s message and putting it out into the world. 

Spokespersons play a vital role in the PR field for organisations, especially during a crisis. They’re at the forefront when it comes to extinguishing anything that could harm a brand’s reputation. And most importantly, they strive to build a trusting relationship between your organisation, associates and publics. 

With that in mind, it’s time to dive into some important notes on how to operate as a successful spokesperson:

Note number I: Tactics to use in an emergency situation

As a PR spokesperson, you should always prepare yourself for emergency situations, especially when representing an individual or governmental department. This is because these figures need someone who can respond timelessly and cleverly to any crisis, even when under pressure. 

Inherit responsibility: Sometimes. the only way out is to tell it like it is. If your organisation did X and it affected Y, it’s good to refer to the persons involved in plural form by using words such as ‘we’ rather than ‘it’ or ‘they’. Why? Because if you’re addressing a presser, the topic might change from the crisis at hand to you trying to distance your organisation from the event. Distancing yourself is like denial, and denying matters that are factual could come back to haunt you. 

It’s important to make sure that psychological doubts in the mind of the public are removed before you leave a gathering of the public or journalists. This is because unanswered questions are really just pending; they’re waiting for you the next time that you’re looking to address something new. If you don’t clarify everything, you set yourself up for unsatisfactory results in the next run.

Ultimately, communicate in a clear and precise manner with the affected party so that they understand and are at ease with whatever the situation may be. It is the responsibility of the spokesperson to make sure that they know what's happening and the way forward. 

Note number II: Tips to use daily 

A spokesperson will sometimes be put in a catch-22 during pressers, interviews or an address; but as a professional PR liaison, you should have the skills to see the opportunity of responding in a way that will not dent your client’ reputation. Rather, you must be able to answer the questions and statements that are put to you in an impressive, professional manner. In order to do this, you will have to prepare in advance for any possible catch-22’s.

When a crisis hits, the affected parties will seek assurance, but it's a smart move not to over reassure.

For example, if your client is part of a community project, and there are still some grey areas in your budget and planning, rather be safe than sorry. Don’t make promises on things that haven’t materialized yet. If things are still in the pipeline, rather make it clear that things are still a work in progress. 

The best spokesperson practices include the following: 
  • Be remorseful and try to avoid being defensive.
  • Point out your faults before your opposition — it will reduce the density of what they were going to how they were going to say it. 
  • In a situation where your client or organisation left individuals in despair, show sympathy to those residents — it’s the human thing to do. For example, if your client is a mine and fumes have affected the health of nearby residents, send out your condolences to those who have been impacted and see what you can do to help. 

All in all, there will be times where you will have to look to your own moral compass for guidance regarding what is ethical and what isn’t ethical. This will be especially helpful when it comes to dealing with tricky circumstances where the right thing to do is not always clear.

Note number III: Keep your emotions in check 

It happens to everyone at some point in their career; colleagues and associates get into disputes and sometimes tempers run high. PR is no different, especially as a spokesperson. You will come across very interrogative journalists, angry community members and unhappy clients, but you need to remember to keep your cool! 

It’s vital that you remain composed and positive, even when things aren't looking up. Never display any form of hostility during an argument or debate as it could make your subject feel uncomfortable and this could lead to you losing sight of your client and the message you’re trying to send out. 

Remember, it’s work: there needs to be less of the personal and more of the professional. Whatever is said about your client, positive or negative, do not respond with hostility or arrogance. Rather, if you feel yourself getting heated, take time to compose yourself. Then, respond in a calm and professional manner. Responding with a temper may make you seem as though you’ve got something to hide (which can seem very suspicious to any onlookers). 

Keeping your attitude and emotions in check plays a huge role in how the public and associates perceive you, and if you come across as an emotional and easily ticked off individual, people will likely use that against you. So be sure to keep watch of your behaviour — always!

A spokesperson is the middle person between organisations, disaster and the public eye — and it’s their duty to defend. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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