Mass Ave PR | Founding Principal | Jennifer Wagner
Speaking on behalf of a client to the media is a skill that takes a lot of practice. It’s also something a lot of flacks, especially big agency worker bees, never get the chance to do — but think they can.
Before you engage an agency to speak for you, here are five questions you need to ask the person who will actually be speaking on the record. I’ve italicized that because your most important duty during the vetting process is making darn sure you know who that person will be.
The agency model relies on senior-level principals to reel in business and farm it out to entry- and junior-level staffers. The $5,000 or $10,000 you pay each month is essentially going to run a training camp for the JV team.
We believe that model fails small and midsized companies and non-profits that can’t afford to pay for newbies to learn the ropes.
We also believe that when you’re hiring someone to be your public face, there’s no room for rookie mistakes. The agency doesn’t speak for you; a person at the agency does. Meet that person. Make sure you trust that person. Understand that that person will carry your message — possibly in a time of crisis — to thousands of television viewers, radio listeners and newspaper readers.
This is a really, really important decision.
Okay. Now for the five questions:
- Have you ever spoken on the record before?If the answer is no, I’d strongly encourage you to take a pass. There are plenty of opportunities for aspiring spokesfolks to cut their teeth. You don’t need to be the test case for someone who’s “always wanted to get some on-the-record experience.”
- Talk about your most challenging experience with a reporter who wasn’t hearing your side. How did you handle it? The way a flack deals with a difficult reporter is critical, and the answer to this question is part-subjective, part-objective. If a would-be spox tells you he’s never dealt with a difficult reporter, you probably want to move on. Assuming he’s walked through a fire or two, the response needs to match your style. A political campaign might want a super-aggressive flack; a non-profit group might want someone with a softer touch. There’s a reason job interviewers ask all those best/worst questions: You can find out a lot about someone by asking her to describe a difficult situation.
- Do you like reporters?It’s not a trick question. It’s another way for you to find out how this person, whose job will be to speak to the press, views reporters on a human level. Some flacks hate the media. (“I think reporters will lie to get a good story and are always out to trick their sources with ‘gotcha’ questions.”) Some flacks love the media. (“My best friends are journalists! It’s a noble profession, and I trust everyone I talk to!”) Good flacks fall somewhere in the middle. (“Reporters are doing their job, and I’m doing mine. They’re real people, and they can become friends, but I’m keenly aware of the roles we respectively play in the newsgathering process.”)
- Why do you want to speak on my behalf? This question is intended to weed out the doe-eyed true believers and the greedy know-it-alls. The best flacks are able to subjugate their own views so they can hear and help with your message. It might seem like a good idea to hire someone who totally, completely adores everything you do, but that person may be too in love to see potential pitfalls. At the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want a hired gun who’s just in it for the paycheck and doesn’t listen to your goals or pay attention to critical details.
- When do you think you should speak on my behalf? Hiring an on-the-record spokesperson doesn’t mean that person has to do all the talking for you. Unless you’re camera-shy or have another reason for not wanting to speak to the press, quite often the best person to carry your message is…you. Reporters would much rather deal with a subject matter expert or someone familiar with a situation than a mouthpiece who’s memorized talking points. Beware the flack who doesn’t know when it’s time to put someone else in front of the camera.
To learn more about our public relations and publicity services, including on-the-record representation, in Indianapolis or nationwide, click here to schedule your free consultation with Mass Ave Public Relations.
Learn more about Mass Ave Public Relations founding principal Jennifer Wagner.