In marketing communications there are often discussions about hiring personalities or even models to speak on behalf of your company. This may a good strategy for advertisements or trade shows. However, in most instances when the media requests an interview, it is not only assumed but generally required that someone employed by your company speak directly to them

Manufacturing facilities are often asked to refer a reporter back to corporate headquarters. (Here’s a hint: to a reporter, the CMO isn’t always the best choice.) When the reporter contacts headquarters, he may bounce around for a few days frustrated, failing to find the correct person to speak to. This is the moment for which the PR team should be prepared.

After a trade show, press event, PR situation, or related manufacturing story, a reporter may be calling, asking to interview a qualified spokesperson. Having the right candidate ready for this public-facing task is important for any brand.

When selecting a spokesperson, it’s best to think like a reporter in terms of who they want to talk to, who can provide the best information, and who will be most credible. It’s also important to balance reporters’ needs with your own agenda, in terms of who is most media savvy and best able to make time for media interviews.

The following factors, which are also available on Slideshare “How to Choose Your Brand Spokesperson,” should be weighed carefully before choosing:

  • Titles and roles – Typically, reporters are hoping to get as far up the chain of command as possible as quickly as possible. Naturally, they also prefer to speak to people who are close to products and issues, favoring product developers or subject matter experts over other employees. Finally, while many marketing people think they should be the ones to handle interviews, most members of the media shy away from marketing people, who, in their view, are often over-coached and unable to provide the best direct insight.
  • Industry knowledge and subject matter expertise – Your spokesperson needs to have a thorough understanding of the subject at hand and be able to answer detailed questions.
  • Authority – A spokesperson must have sufficient authority, seniority or title to speak on behalf of the company.
  • Willingness and comfort level – While PR professionals often joke that the most willing spokespeople are often the least qualified, it is important that no one be forced into a situation that makes them extremely uncomfortable. Discomfort can come across as a lack of knowledge or evasiveness to reporters.
  • Receptivity to coaching – Even executives need media training to remind them of key messages, help them stay on point and better manage conversations. It’s best to favor those who are open to this coaching rather than those who think they don’t need it.
  • Ability to stay on message – No one wants to talk to someone who drones on and on, leaps from subject to subject or cannot complete a thought. Companies should also beware of a spokesperson who is apt to digress or be easily led into other areas. You want people who can answer questions clearly and succinctly, sticking to the messages they’ve been given.
  • Credibility and authenticity – Be careful not to favor ability to stay on message over credibility. Spokespeople should come across as honest, forthright and not overly scripted.
  • Personality – The spotlight is not a place for nervous nellies, egomaniacs or wall flowers. You should look for confident, articulate, intelligent, outgoing people who can read an audience and are not easily intimidated. Even the most brilliant scholar or subject matter expert will fail as a spokesperson if he or she does not have the ability to connect with people.
  • Speaking qualities – Soft-spoken people and podiums do not mix. Having a strong voice and clear enunciation is very important. A heavy accent does not necessarily rule someone out, but it must be evaluated objectively to determine whether she may cause confusion or project the wrong image.
  • Physical presence – Physical presence commands attention and projects authority. Be sure to choose a speaker who holds the attention of others, maintains eye contact, does not shift around too much and looks the part.

In today’s environment where thought leadership is so critical a component of any marketing effort, choosing a spokesperson is a major decision for any manufacturing company.

Remember that a spokesperson is just a vehicle for conveying your message. It’s what you do to prepare them for the job – media training, scripting, message development, presentation skills coaching, etc. – that makes all the difference.