Musings of a PR Professional



Chapter 9: Selecting and Training Spokespeople

One line really struck me while reading this chapter: “Today as never before, the press tries to ‘put a face’ on issues.”

The first thing that came to my mind when I read this line was the media coverage of the BP oil spill this past summer. Currently, I am working on a study that examines the influence of BP press releases on media coverage of the oil spill in The New York Times and The Guardian. One thing that I have come across in my analysis of news articles is that the media found the people in the issue. Specifically, they found BP CEO Tony Hayward.

During this public relations crisis, Tony Hayward took on the role of spokesperson. He is featured extensively in BP’s press releases as the only person quoted. In this respect, BP did a good job of limiting the number of people that they put in front of the media. While this was an effective technique to keep information about the Gulf spill consistent and not misconstrued. However, after several PR gaffes (you can read about them here and here), Hayward inadvertently became BP’s media scapegoat.

Clearly, this example speaks to the importance of making sure that an organization’s spokesperson should always have good media training. If the president of an internationally recognized oil company can screw up in front of the media, then it is likely that spokespeople of lesser-known and lesser-endowed nonprofits will too.

For nonprofits on the other hand, this concept of putting a face on your issue is a little different, but not much. Rather than seeking out someone for which to blame, the media likes to find the people who have been affected by a nonprofit’s cause and in turn, show how that nonprofit has hopefully helped or effected them. This makes a cause much easier to relate to for the public, so nonprofits should try to take advantage of this media tendency.

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