Six tips for working well with your nonprofit’s spokespeople
Throughout my career, I’ve attended professional development sessions and courses about working with spokespeople, particularly in the area of media training. I’ve watched TV interviews with the uncomfortable spokesperson or listened to radio PSAs that make no clear connection between a cause and the spokesperson. In some cases, the right media training can make all the difference but the first question I ask is “Who would be the best spokesperson to represent my organization for this particular situation?”
During an #NPMC Twitter chat earlier this year, there were some great insights about ensuring consistency with nonprofit spokespeople. This led to the idea of developing the top six tips for working well with your nonprofit’s spokespeople.
1. Choose the right spokesperson for the occasion.
Gone are the days when an organization can or should rely on one individual as the spokesperson. Depending on the opportunity, there are likely internal or external stakeholders who can represent your organization. Thoughtful and careful selection can make a huge difference in the outcome of the specific situation and help ensure a positive public perception.
I recall a significant issue that was breaking in the news and my organization was asked to comment. There was a lot of sensitivity and choosing the right spokesperson was critical. Rather than suggest a senior leader, I made the choice to work with a valued volunteer. The result was a compelling story that was much more authentic than a ‘company representative’ reciting key messages.
2. Define the spokesperson’s role and develop a checklist for your needs.
Spokespeople can serve several different purposes in a nonprofit organization. Often it is a senior leader who is talking about an organization-wide initiative or event; sometimes it is a volunteer who is raising awareness for your cause; or a donor who can talk about the impact of your programs. Whatever the reason, outline the role for your spokesperson and tell them what objectives you’d like to achieve by working with him or her.
3. Be proactive about your spokesperson program and process.
Spokespeople shouldn’t be an after-thought. I’ve lived this reality on both sides of the spectrum; the hair pulling scramble for spokespeople at the last minute and the ease of having a spokesperson ready to go when the project light turns green. And I definitely prefer the latter.
Of course there are those situations where MarComm professionals have no control over a news story that requires a spokesperson comment. A journalist calls with a request for an interview and you have to act quickly to meet a tight deadline. This is where a spokesperson database and advance media interview training will be of great help and ensure your spokesperson is comfortable, informed and confident.
4. Work collaboratively with spokespeople.
Spokespeople have also taught me a lot as we work together on programs or press conferences. I remember thinking I had everything organized, key messages and Q&As were all ready for an upcoming press conference. What I didn’t factor into the equation was some important information that ultimately changed the tone and messaging of our organization’s media release and remarks. This preparation and planning alongside a spokesperson provided so much more value and a human angle that could only come from someone personally impacted.
5. Make sure your spokesperson represents your brand and is connected to your cause.
Do your homework. And this isn’t only for higher-profile or celebrity spokespeople. If spokespeople are external to your organization, treat them like you would if you were hiring them. Today’s technology makes it very easy to check out a person’s social media account. If you’re asking someone to speak about the importance of healthy living but their Twitter account is filled with images of fast food indulgence, you may want to reconsider the reflection this would have on your organization. And the brand importance goes both ways. Make sure you talk to your spokespeople about your overall brand and mission. Ensure they understand your organization’s priorities and have no personal conflicts that could unravel during the time they work with you.
Most of us can relate to experiences where we heard a great story that impacted our decision-making. If knowledge is power, story-telling is the superhero power. With the right spokesperson story, your organization can set itself apart and break through the noise and clutter and make an impact; and they don’t need to be a celebrity or high-profile individual for this to happen.
6. Say thank you.
Simply put, spokespeople often give up their own time away from their work or family to represent your nonprofit. And it’s usually not a one-time deal. It’s not uncommon for MarComm professionals to phone or email spokespeople for last minute ‘favours’ or media interviews. Out of respect for their time and maintaining a positive working relationship, a simple thank you and recognition can go a long way for future collaboration with your spokespeople.
I think of spokespeople as extensions of the organization. Whenever opportunities exist to invite them to other events or include them on regular communication it provides ongoing learning opportunities and keeps spokespeople up-to-date on the latest news. You never know when you’ll need to call on them in the future.