After over a decade of handling PR and marketing efforts for different brands in entertainment, advertising and tech, I’ve seen every variety of “thought leader” and corporate representative you can imagine. From Jobs to Branson, there’s a diversity of examples the public draws on when imagining corporate leaders and spokespeople. Despite this diversity, there’s a specific, measurable personality profile to the individuals who will make the best representatives.
A "spokesperson" is not simply a boilerplate media relations staffer. They’re the unofficial face and voice of your company. Their skill set goes beyond general relationship management and public speaking. They create a tone and narrative for your brand. Every company needs a multidisciplinary strategist and forward-facing communicator; a front-man who deals with the press, peers, potential investors and conference attendees. This spokesperson could be anyone from your CTO to your best copywriter or salesperson.
Plenty of companies think their best spokesperson is in their C-suite, but these handy tips for finding your company’s secret weapon may show you otherwise.
1. Encourage public speaking.
Your spokesperson will need to be able to speak, interview, socialize and pitch confidently. Create opportunities for your team to practice these skills internally in regular (perhaps bi-weekly) roundtable meetings so they’ll be able to respond to questions and criticism in real-time and in off-the-cuff fashion.
2. Identify the networkers and the volunteer mascots.
People who enjoy their jobs and think kindly of their company tend to talk about it to their friends and family (even if those outside parties still have no idea what you do). Identify your employees who generate the most buzz about your brand in their personal lives - whether they bring it up in meetings or by the water cooler - as they will already be well-practiced, albeit informal, spokespeople.
3. Listen for the good storytellers.
It’s important that your secret weapon have a polished, compelling narrative ability. Is anyone on your team an amateur comedian or travel enthusiast? Listen for orators with a strong sense of timing and audience awareness.
4. Observe your staff socially (and try to not to scare them).
This isn’t permission to hide behind the fern adjacent the coffee maker. Watch how differently your team members interact in social situations. Who’s the room-worker and who’s buried in their phone? You want someone who can move seamlessly through small groups and crowds without too much cheesy, cliched glad-handing.
5. Find someone with a nose for the news.
Your CTO might be a genius, but they won’t be an asset in crafting thought pieces or have a strong presence at marketing conferences unless they have a deep knowledge of news, from breaking research to industry gossip. An ideal secret weapon will be a bit of a know-it-all, maybe even a trivia buff, but not a jack of all trades and master of none.
6. Who’s popular on Twitter/Instagram?
You’ve already scoped out their LinkedIn and other social media before hiring them, so now it’s time to put that intel to good use! Depending on the nature of their popularity (hopefully for their wit and not any spurious political beliefs), a large-enough earned audience can reveal an understanding of branding and content that is valuable when seeking spokespeople. Forget Facebook and its static audience numbers; Twitter and Instagram are quick, painless and click-baity outlets for you to better assess a staffer by learning how they express themselves.
7. Don't confuse eccentric with genius.
The general archetype of a peculiar but visionary spokesperson is a myth. Often there is no substance behind the spectacle. Wearing the same thing every day and having a fondness for relaying aloof, dreamy proclamations are not requirements for a good spokesperson. Avoid selecting those types in favor of more predictable crowd-pleasers who are innovative and still have reliable mass appeal. Your spokesperson should be able to relate -- not pander or condescend -- to the public.