Spokesperson Rules of Engagement

A good spokesperson does more than deliver a message. Through them, audiences gain a direct, often personal insight into the company or organization being represented. Becoming a corporate spokesperson takes experience, confidence and an ability to deliver – particularly in challenging situations. A good spokesperson knows that he or she can help build or defend reputations.

Part of becoming a good spokesperson is understanding the rules of engagement when it comes to media interviews. Here’s a quick guide with some initial rules to help any new spokesperson navigate the often murky waters of the modern media interview:

Spokespeople have the right to:

  1. Know the topic, participants, and format of the interview. What’s the story the journalist is writing? While you are arranging details of the interview, speak up and ask about the basics: Will this be a phone, television or newspaper interview? Are you being interviewed alone, or will you be part of a panel? All important questions to have answers to beforehand.
  2. Arrange an appropriate time to speak to the reporter. Just because you answer a journalist’s phone call, doesn’t mean you have to give an interview at that moment. Find out, make a break and arrange for a separate time to do the interview – even if it’s just 15 minutes. This will give you time to prepare, review your key messages, and be ready for the interview.
  3. Know if the interview will be edited or used in its entirety. Will this be a live-to-digital interview, or edited? Interviews are usually edited for length; however raw footage is sometimes included on websites.
  4. Expect fairness. Not all stories about your organization will be favourable. Journalists can often be critical and will ask tough questions – that is their job. But you should expect fairness – that both sides of a story will be presented.

Spokespeople shouldn’t expect to:

  1. Know questions in advance. It is bad form, and unreasonable, to ask a journalist for a list of questions before an interview. That’s why it’s important to be prepared before every interview.
  2. See the story in advance or dictate story content. With mainstream media, spokespeople shouldn’t expect or ask to see a story before it is published, or to dictate story content after it is written.
  3. Change your quotes or edit your story. While you have complete control over what you say during an interview, you do not have the ability to edit quotes or your story afterwards. Prepare carefully and know what you want to say before you do the interview.
  4. Expect your view to be the only one presented, or that the story will be an advertisement for your organization. News media aren’t in the business of doing advertisements. But a skilled communications professional and spokesperson can find ways of taking positive events/attributes of an organization and positioning them as news. That stated, you shouldn’t expect a story about your organization to be one-sidedly positive.

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