Preparing a spokesperson for a press interaction

One of the biggest challenges faced by a PR professional is to train/prepare the company spokesperson/s for media interactions, since not all of them are born with the gift of public speaking or they may not be equipped with in-depth knowledge.

One needs to be very cautious. There are topics that could make for a challenging press interview or there could be difficult questions asked by the reporter. If the company has been caught up in a scandal, there are bound to be uncomfortable questions. There could also be questions about company turnover or work culture that a person may not be comfortable answering. There will also be questions that will catch you off-guard. This is where the PR expert must pitch in to control the situation from damage by handling it without getting provoked.

Prior to a media interview it is important that the PR resource does a research on the reporter and the publication they are associated with. Read the reporter’s background and their past articles in order to catch their tone, style and the kind of questions they usually ask, whether they have covered the organisation in past and their views on the competition. Be in constant touch with the media prior to the interaction so as to learn more and more about the story angle, the kind of questions going to be asked, and most importantly, to build a rapport with the journalist to create a comfort zone for both sides.

The PR resource must then prepare a list of expected Q&As to share with the spokesperson. Prepare the questions as per the journalist’s expectations, and for preparing answers, they must sit with various concerned departmental heads to understand their respective areas.

Stick to the three or four messages you want to get across in the interview, which should be the key takeaways. Regardless of the question asked, always reinforce these key messages in responses.

If a journalist asks an irrelevant question that cannot be verified immediately, the PR resource must tell the spokesperson to politely tell the journalist that you will need to know more about the situation and will follow up with him after the interview, and get back to him with exact information after checking internally. Another way to deal with such a situation is to remind the journalist what the interview is all about and that if possible, they must not deviate from the topic, and anything over and above that can be discussed separately at another time.

It is understandable to repeat some part of the question while trying to answer. This is fine. But the PR resource must tell the spokesperson to not use any negative/bad language while answering any question even if it is about the competition. Keep up the good humour and answer very tactfully without sounding negative. In fact, even when they hear a negative thing about their company, they must say something positive about how it is getting addressed.

Finally, it is imperative for the spokesperson to keep themselves abreast of everyday news in general and, especially everything pertaining to their specific industry. If they are being interviewed on a day when there is a sector-specific breaking news, they will be asked to comment on that. The PR expert must come up with a strategy on how the company should be positioned in terms of the breaking news.

It is important to keep the organisation in news, in a positive way of course. Keeping the company’s brand intact is the mandate for the PR lead of the specific company however if the spokesperson is well trained with media etiquettes and is well versed, and is, presentable/friendly/approachable, a company’s brand can stay well maintained.

Ritu Bararia
A passionate Public Relations and Communications professional with a progressive experience of over 18 years, Ritu is an expert in the realm of Travel, Hospitality and Aviation. Her forte lies in strategising communication plans basis the essence of a brand with a strong focus on media management aiming to create focused visibility and awareness.

Some of her professional milestones include, setting up of Aviation Industry Group for CII, facilitating launch of India’s first Premium Airline – Kingfisher Airlines and establishing the brand in media as the official spokesperson, facilitating launch of Luxury Retail Brands like Porsche Design, Bally and strategising and executing launch of the brand Roseate Hotels and Resorts.

Prior to founding Little-joy Communications, Ritu was Group Head - Corporate Communications with Bird Group/Amadeus India.

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