A reporter called and started asking questions. I knew the answers and was well into giving information on behalf of the client when it hit me: I’m not authorized to be this company’s spokesperson!
As a communications consultant for this client I was empowered to provide information – send out pre-authorized backgrounders, fact sheets, news releases. But I was not authorized to speak on behalf of the company. I stopped in mid-sentence.
“I’m not a spokesperson for my client so I don’t want to be quoted,” I said, probably too sharply. I caught the reporter cold. He was taking down everything I said and fully intended to pepper his story with Alyn “Edwards said…. According to company spokesperson Alyn Edwards…”
It was almost too late that I realized I had set a trap for myself and I was right in it. I knew better.
During the hundreds of media training sessions I have conducted, I stress that companies must appoint and train anyone speaking for the organization and they should only offer information in areas of their direct knowledge and responsibilities.
I also tell them to negotiate every interview. When reporters call, don’t start answering questions until you know exactly who you are talking to, how to contact them and have asked these other key questions:
- What is your story?
- What information do you want from our organization?
- Is there a focus or angle that you are pursuing?
- Who else are you talking to?
- What questions do you have?
Only with full information should a company or organization decide that an interview will suit its goals and interests. That’s not always the case.
Several years ago, a call came in from a meat processor in the Vancouver area. It was during the XL Meat e-coli crisis in Brooks, Alberta. The B.C. company was not related in anyway. But it was receiving calls from reporters wanting ‘localize’ the story. They asked to take video and photos of their plant operation and interview managers about food safety.
My strong advice was to thank reporters for their interest, tell them the plant is in full compliance with all food safety standards and explain that no unauthorized persons can enter the plant.
I recommended the company not say anything beyond this because, as soon as the public saw pictures or video of that meat packing operation, the company would be immediately associated with the e-coli outbreak and its business could suffer greatly.
If the interview is a good fit for your organization, negotiate a time and place for the interview which gives the spokesperson adequate time to prepare key messages.
Sending a fact sheet or background information in advance of the interview describing the organization, its products and services along with information detailing the subject of the interview could head off up to 30 minutes of needless questions. That also helps ensure accurate reporting.
That’s what communications consultants can deliver while being careful not to unwittingly become a spokesperson for their clients.