In media training and crisis communications training, there are many debates about who should be your spokesperson in a crisis. Here are three common arguments and what you should consider.
Argument 1: The CEO Should Always Be the Spokesperson
A CEO who wants to be the only spokesperson is destined for failure. In a crisis, the CEO should be:
1) Managing the crisis
2) Managing the business operations
This is especially true in the first hours of a crisis when information is just becoming available.
In a severe crisis involving injuries or fatalities, the CEO becomes the face of the organization’s compassion. Even then, the CEO as a spokesperson might come several hours into the crisis. In the first hour, when a statement needs to be made, the CEO is often busy with other issues.
Also, if a CEO misspeaks early in the crisis, they destroy their credibility and undermine the reputation of the organization. Whereas, if anyone else misspeaks early in the crisis, the CEO can step in to clarify the facts and becomes the hero figure.
Remember BP’s CEO Tony Hayward, who uttered, “I want my life back.” That line caused him to be fired as CEO.
Argument 2: The PR Person Should Always Be the Spokesperson
The public relations person is an excellent choice as spokesperson in the first hour of the crisis when media might be just arriving, but doesn’t need to be the spokesperson throughout an entire crisis.
The PR person should be on the crisis management team and should serve as leader of the crisis communications team.
A “First Critical Statement” should be in every crisis communications plan. When few facts are known, it allows the PR person to:
1) Acknowledge the crisis
2) Provide basic facts
3) Say something quotable, while promising more information at a future briefing
(For a free First Critical Statement contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
My recommendation is that numerous people should be media trained as spokespeople. In a crisis, the PR person should speak during the first hour of the crisis. By the end of the second hour of the crisis, a subject matter expert should serve as spokesperson. If needed, the subject matter expert can remain as spokesperson if the crisis is ongoing. The final news briefing of the day may be the best time to feature the CEO as spokesperson.
Think of your spokesperson selection process the way sports teams operate. You have stars and strong people on the bench, ready to step in as needed.
Media training helps identify your star players and secondary players. Most of all, never let anyone speak without intense training. Media play hardball. Don’t send out an untrained person with little league skills.
About the author: Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC (Jared Bro) is a media training and crisis communications plan expert. He has helped organizations on 5 continents. Braud is the author of Don’t Talk to the Media Until… 29 Secrets You Need to Know Before You Open Your Mouth to a Reporter. www.braudcommunications.com