The Need To Procure a Real Spokesman: PR's Struggle With Street Cred

Author: Richard Media May 9, 2009

My Dad once told me the real problem with the world is that everyone thinks they’re right. And he’s right. That’s why everyone can’t be a PR spokesman. If the “wrong” type of person is speaking or one who can’t be bothered to learn the correct way to communicate, the exercise is futile.

Most of us use our company CEOs, yet company officers for the most part run verbal blue streaks when PR people know the only thing reporters want is a decent quote. There are, however, many great strategic thinkers who care enough to say the very best, so why not train one of them to within an inch of his or her life?

That’s how your job gets easier. Before you say, “yeah sure Richard—like my CEO would ever go for it,” remember to gently fight for buy-in by demonstrating how easy it will be for the top dog not to need to be available constantly.

And then locate that less-visible staffer who talks the least and says the most – the one with the biggest heart, not the biggest brain. The best of them use purely sensitive, thoughtful and slightly provocative sentences, making readers or viewers say “huh,” and look to see who the utterer is. That leads immediately to wondering more about the speaker’s employer. That’s called exposure.

In The Cluetrain Manifesto Doc Searls explains how the best PR people are “not PR people at all…They are the company’s best conversationalists.” I call them the “greatest generation” of company speakers. Those folks are able to tell stories people “actually want to hear,” Searls says.

To get reporters – and the more-evasive public – to talk about you is tough. By gaining a grip on that person who tells well-concocted anecdotes, who is truly “on” without making a fuss, and who talks the talk with a smile and some content, you’ve got a rarity you can place on the media’s pedestal.

I’m not talking about the loudest, either. In a world of “best, best, best,” we find ourselves going with showoffs. The fact is, you need to give media more than sizzle. Procure someone with a heartfelt way of telling a sensible yarn who gets to the point without any shouting or chest beating.

Back to that CEO: Most leaders have no idea how crucial “staying on message” is because, as far as they’re concerned, everything they say is fabulous. Frank Gilroy, who wrote the award-winning The Subject Was Roses, calls those beloved phrases he leaves out “the lovelies.” Tell your CEO that those lovely things he says are wasted on the numb.

Does your chosen spokesman truly understand boundaries when talking to the press?

As a nonstop news junkie, I can attest that nearly all of those who are quoted talk and talk without realizing the garble isn’t helping things and, in fact, often aids reporters and sometimes even the competition more. Really, if a reporter is talking about something a competitor has mastered and your know-it- all chimes in about it, who ends up looking great? Not you, certainly.

This, of course, is the point. If you’re a pro going for placements, you were “placed” at your desk, albeit a smaller one, for a specific reason. So coddle no one. And because the best stories, like favorite TV shows, are challenging and a little bit complicated – and more memorable – you need to be on the lookout for someone who can talk about the struggles within a company or the processes that took the firm somewhere, without depending on yawn-inducing “presentation speak.”

Find that person and you will be a hero.

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