Margaret McGann

Company Spokesperson: choose carefully

In communications and marketing, interviewing, media interview, media relations, media training, public relations, spokesperson on July 26, 2010 at 9:38 am

On Good Morning America today, U.S. Representative Ed Markey D-Massachusetts described BP’s CEO Tony Hayward as being aloof ,  uninformed and ignorant among other things. This isn’t  a description any of us would want applied to our company’s present or former CEO or spokesperson.

It seems Tony Hayward has become a cautionary tale for all organizations that it’s absolutely crucial to have the right spokesperson.

Here are the qualities I think a super star spokesperson needs to be or perceived to be:

  • Engaging
  • Passionate
  • Knowledgeable
  • Believable
  • Trustworthy
  • Empathetic
  • Cool under pressure
  • Quick-thinking
  • Flexible
  • Able to deliver memorable quotes, stories and sound bites
  • Able to gauge and connect with their audience

Anything else you think should be added to this list?

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  1. Good post Margaret. I’d add:
    – fearless
    – well-briefed
    – media-trained

  2. Tony Hayward claimed when named CEO that he would make safety a priority. The ensuing events indicate that he failed. Even so, he is safe himself with his golden parachute. Beyond BP as a dysfunctional company, this points to corporate governance itself being broken in American business.


    • Yes, I would think a million dollar a year pension and being transferred, not fired, provides safety for Tony Hayward for sure. I think BP is rewarding him for the profits he made for the company and stockholders rather than safety. The frightening part is that I think you’re right about corporate governance and dysfunctionality and that it is more common that we want to imagine.

  3. Hi Margaret! Great to see your thoughts on this and I agree with the qualities you suggest for spokespeople. One of the challenges I find is CEO’s are often hired for other abilities and do not make good natural spokespeople and even with training are not right for that job. The dilemna then is should the PR person or other senior VP be the spokesperson when in times of crisis people really expect the CEO? What can we as PR people do about influencing the hiring of CEO’s to include good spokesperson traits and skills?

    • Hi Penny, In addition to the challenges you mention is the fact that many CEOs, because they possess an ego the size of Canada, think they are a great spokesperson despite all evidence to the contrary. Good question about what we can do as PR people to influence the hiring of CEOs to include good spokesperson traits and skills. I’m not sure how we would do that but we can try and influence CEOs to do intensive media training and refresher courses when needed while we provide strong sound byte messaging and try to be close by when they are being interviewed.

  4. Adding to my previous comments I would also add they need to be unafraid to admit when they are wrong, face up to mistakes publicly, be “non-defensive” and good listeners and if need be “take it on the chin”. Super humans really!

    Penny Noble, APR

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