Leaders must speak with one voice, have coordinated, unified message
Avoid confusion with a primary spokesperson
Have you ever heard that there are two sides to every story? Or multiple ways to answer a single question? No doubt you have. There are multiple perspectives for every situation. In life this can be good. When it comes to your business’s reputation, multiple perspectives and answers can be problematic if they do not mesh.
The goal when interacting with members of the media is to avoid contradictory information delivered by multiple individuals. If several sources give differing information to a media representative and these are used in a news story or online piece, how does the public know which information is correct? This inconsistency will lead to issues with credibility and can be damaging especially if sources offer contradictory thoughts or facts about a situation. The solution to minimize information confusion is to have a single person responsible for delivering information to members of the media.
Who communicates a message or speaks for your business?
When it comes to your business, it is always preferable to have a single person act as your company’s designated spokesperson and official media contact for your company. Your dedicated spokesperson must be media savvy, understanding how to interact with journalists accurately and communicate transparently.
For a small business, the designated spokesperson might be the CEO or the Director of Marketing, or may even be an external public relations firm representative.
When you have a critical situation in which you’re communicating technical information you may also want to have a subject matter expert speak in conjunction with your designated spokesperson. Subject matter experts can often convey a highly technical information in a way that bolsters the message and helps people understand complicated topics.
For larger firms there will be a communications team whose job it is to speak with members of the media. There may even be specific individuals who are aligned with the various publics or audiences of the corporation: customers, stockholders, employees. This team is coordinated, so they all deliver the cohesive information.
Unified messaging whether in a crisis situation or in regular PR and marketing communications is mandatory. When you have several people who communicate with the media without coordination, the result can be detrimental publicity which damages your reputation.
Multiple points of view help shape credible messages
When working out what to say and how to respond, every viewpoint of the potential audiences must be comprehended. These viewpoints shape the manner, tone and content of a response. Evaluate and utilize insights from all your constituencies in order that the resulting message does not open up a minefield of other issues.
You have seen this happen when leaders deliver tone-deaf messages which cause slights or insult various members of the public. As an example there is the apology type I call “sorry, not sorry”. A classic example is United Airlines’ 2017 contrasting initial public response and employee directed response to the involuntary removal of a passenger from their plane. [Read the story on PR News Online.]
Annual communications audits and training
Annually your communications team or corporate spokesperson needs to work with the company leaders to identify key messages. They also must identify potential vulnerabilities and outline for the team how those vulnerabilities — if they become occurrences — might impact your business. After having identified potential threats, whether it’s a customer complaint which goes viral via social media, violence in the workplace or a storm which disrupts business, you can outline an initial message and points of response. Keeping these points fresh and updated allows you to respond with nimbleness to an immediate situation.
The foundation of these plans will include who will speak in each given situation and who has the responsibility of communicating on behalf of the business. As noted earlier, in some situations you may be able to benefit from having subject matter experts partnered with your designated spokesperson.
How will frontline staff interact with the media?
When members of the media visit your business locations and attempt to speak with people who are not designated to speak with the voice of the company, it’s critical that frontline staff understand how to react as well the appropriate method for providing contact information for the designated spokesperson. One of the simplest ways to do this is to have the unit manager meet the media person if they are in the store or speak with them on the phone and provide the contact information or the business card for the spokesperson.
It is the staff member’s responsibility to then communicate the journalist’s name, contact information and affiliation which they got during their interaction to the communications person or team. Doing so in this manner means that both the journalist and the spokesperson know about the contact. Most PR people will go ahead and reach out to the journalist, rather than wait on the media contact to reach out.
Training for frontline staff members needs to be a part of their orientation when they join the firm. Regular review of this topic with employees to keep everyone familiar with how they direct inquiries will ensure that when a media representative contacts your business, the person who greets them will know what to do, and do it well.
If you follow this simple outline of how to get your message coordinated, you can avoid multiple messages which may lead to confusion, or damage to your business reputation.
What if you do not have someone who capable of serving as a spokesperson?
A public relations firm such as Charleston PR & Design can provide identification of vulnerabilities, message development, spokesperson training, and can act as a spokesperson in critical situations. We can also provide training to your frontline staff around interaction with the media. Don’t wait until it’s too late, plan ahead and be certain that your messages are coordinated and represent your business with clarity and unity and that your designated spokesperson is ready, able and can respond with authority.
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