Having served as spokesman for a large international organization as well as for a variety of agency clients, I can attest that it is a challenging job, especially when dealing with hostile reporters who are trying to trip you up or make you look bad.
Being a spokesperson can be a high pressure chore, especially when you’re in the middle of a controversy or crisis. As the face and voice of the agency (or one of your clients), what you say can positively or negatively affect relationships with stakeholders, clients, competitors and other important audiences.
There weren’t any “Spokesperson 101” elective courses when I was in college, and I’d be surprised if there are many today. Absent a specific course on the subject, the best preparation is good media training, but even with such training I’ve found that the art of being an effective spokesperson is best learned through experience.
An important part of any ad agency PR initiative is finding a person well suited for the role of representing your agency to the world. Depending on your agency’s size and delegation of responsibilities, the role of spokesperson likely will go to one of the principals or to the highest-level PR person. (In some cases that person may be both.)
But more important than the person’s specific role in the agency is to possess certain traits. Obviously the person who serves as spokesperson must be knowledgeable about the agency, industry and specific topic at hand, but it takes more than that to be successful. Some things can be learned through experience, but there’s also a certain personality type that thrives in this job.
Here’s my list of 14 “must have” traits for an effective ad agency spokesperson:
1. High integrity; you can trust what this person says
2. Excellent communicator who is clear, concise and articulate
3. Able to reframe an issue in a positive way without sounding contrived
4. Well prepared
5. Likable personality
6. Confident but not cocky
7. Cool under pressure
8. Able to think on his or her feet
9. Not easily rattled
10. Doesn’t get defensive
11. Able to laugh at himself or herself
12. Learns from his or her mistakes
13. Takes criticism well and uses it to improve
14. X factor
The last one, which I’ve called the “X factor,” is something I can’t define—I just know it when I see it. If you think about good spokespeople you’ve observed over the years, you’ll see this X factor in them. Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow had it. He possessed a sunny disposition and always struck me as someone who was born for that role. The not-so-good ones lack it. You can probably think of some of those folks on your own.