Who gets to be the spokesperson?

Provided that the organisation you work in is not very rigid in its hierarchy, the choice of the right spokesperson for each project is part of the communications process. Traditionally, that responsibility has been put on the shoulders of people with a clearly defined mandate as leader (for instance, CEO or communications director) and, at times, the eloquent one was picked, instead.

As organisations become more flat in their hierarchy, roles and responsibilities are becoming more fluid and as more and more insight into the inner life of organisations (which to a greater extent is because of social media), there is greater freedom to choose someone to speak publically representing the collective.

The criteria to use in order to find such person are related to the skills and profile of the candidates at hand but also with the context. There’s really no science here, but a few typical situations can be observed:

- In political organisations and companies listed on the stock exchange, for instance, there is traditionally a tighter control based on who has the mandate to speak publically.

- If an organisation is trying to profile itself as an expert stakeholder, choosing the expert over the political representative gives extra points. The job title and a fact-strong statement should make a clear contribution to the ‘ethos’ of the message.

- If you want to waive criticism as a no-issue, avoid going for the highest-ranking spokespeople as it sends out the signal that the topic is, in fact, a big deal. The trick is to successfully measure the temperature of each situation. If there is a big crisis and you’re the last one to realise it, there is a chance people will crucify your organisation for not taking criticism seriously.

- A hybrid solution is also interesting if you have some variations of the main message prepared to be rolled out for different target groups, e.g. experts communicating with specialised media while a generalist takes on broader channels.

There are practical and symbolic consequences that result from the choice of spokesperson - from the ability to deliver the right message to the right audience to the non-tangible signals you send by putting someone in the limelight.

Sergio Guimaraes – Speaking of PR