The Critical Importance of the Spokesperson in Crisis Management

Try this simple test, made possible thanks to the ubiquity of the smartphone and its on-board camera. First, imagine a crisis that would put your organisation in a difficult posture with the public. A generally applicable example is breach of your confidential business data, including your customer records. Now take your smartphone and record a selfie video of you making a supposedly public statement about the incident. Stop the recording and play it back. Give yourself a score for each of the following aspects: clarity of speech, clarity of statements made, credibility, and level of positive appeal to an angry public looking to lynch a suspect. Scores rather lower than you’d like? You’re on the way to discovering the crucial role of the spokesperson in a crisis.

But, you say, my video selfie was made with no prior preparation or planning. Indeed. That goes to show that spokespeople are made, not born, and that training and practice are all part of the process. Anybody representing the organisation in a time of crisis needs to have the right skills, usually acquired through the right training, and the right position in the organisation too. Designated spokespeople must be identified and prepared ahead of any crisis. And in the interests of business continuity, they must be supported by back-up spokespeople who can step into the breach if required.

Contrary to some beliefs, being brilliant in front of a camera or before an audience is unlikely to be a spontaneously acquired aptitude. Similarly, the difference between capitalising on positive publicity and containing negative publicity usually needs to be explained to would-be spokespeople. If not, the ‘ad lib’ spokesperson can do more harm than good. Remember too that social media is a growing channel of importance for communicating with customers and the public at large. Social media community managers too must be appropriately selected and trained not only to disseminate crisis information properly, but also to handle the interactions and messages that such information can spark.