Neil Foote, CEO of Foote Communications, UNT Professor and President of National Black Public Relations Society, spoke with Doug Simon, Founder of The SPOKEies™ and D S Simon Media via Skype offering his best practices for brand and non-profit spokespeople. He also offered strategies for positioning your spokesperson in the best light while pitching your story.
“There’s an entire universe of reporters, journalists in earmarks, and bloggers who will listen to every keyword that you make and take everything that you say and potentially position it in context or out of context… we want to make sure that we’re understanding what are some of the conversations going on.”
“These awards are right on time at a time we need to recognize those who are doing great work, those who are sharing great stories, those who are representing their brands in many different ways under in some cases very difficult circumstances.”
DOUG SIMON: What are some of your key tips for best practices for spokespeople to be effective representatives of their organizations?
NEIL FOOTE: That’s a great question, Doug. To me it boils down to three key areas. Honesty– I truly advise my clients that it’s best to be honest, and as soon as you start trying to hide something a good journalist is going to see right through it.
Which means transparency. You don’t have to tell every detail about the situation, but you want to make sure that you do everything you can to make sure that you’re going to find the information to help reporters get the information to provide the best information to their readers and viewers.
The third part I say is humility. There’s nothing worse, and we’ve seen it over and over again, of spokespeople who seem to be higher than their positions, than really talking to and talking with journalists who, for the most part, are trying to get good information that they can transfer to their audiences, which we know now happens much more rapidly than the old days. So we’re talking about print, digital, and social media instantly sharing anything a spokesperson says.
So being able to portray yourself in an honest, transparent, and humble manner are the best three things that any spokesperson can do.
DOUG SIMON: Yeah. And there are really two parts to being a spokesperson. At one point you’re taking incoming, where something’s happened where journalists have a great interest in what you’re doing. But you’re also trying to have your team be productive for you, to give you an opportunity to get out there, to tell the stories that you want to tell. How do you strategize to put a spokesperson in the best light when you’re being proactive to get a story out there?
NEIL FOOTE: Several key things. You want to do your research. You want to do the information gathering on your side. So I really work with my clients to make sure we understand everything that’s been written or aired about the situation, that’s been posted or tweeted or shared that will give us bits of information, pro or negative– positive or negative– about the situation.
So that when we go in front of a group of journalists, we can anticipate some of those questions, we can provide information that maybe will help journalists better understand the situation, and better yet, you know, if it’s a crisis communications situation, set up a scenario by which we will be able to have a chain of command, a chain of communication, so that journalists will know when they’re going to be communicated, how that we will be communicated with, and what those updates are going to look like in the course of the next few hours or days as the crisis plays itself out.
DOUG SIMON: Now, when it comes to crisis, it seems like every week there’s a brand, an organization, in a crisis. What are some of the key steps about building rapport with media prior to a crisis happening that can be best practices for a spokesperson to be effective? And also, that points to the points you were making earlier about trust.
NEIL FOOTE: Absolutely. Critical thing is relationships. What you know as a spokesperson is that you probably have relationships with reporters already who either have interviewed you in the past, covered your company in the past. So those are some of the key people that, before you even get to the press conference, you’re going to pick up the phone and call those journalists and say, look, let me fill you in about what’s going on and what I can share with you. That’s one part.
Knowing that there’s an entire universe of reporters, journalists in earmarks, and bloggers who will listen to every keyword that you make and take everything that you say and potentially position it in context or out of context, based on their constituencies that they may represent. So therefore we want to make sure that we’re understanding what are some of the conversations going on. So listening to those conversations in a broader social media perspective as well as a traditional media perspective is going to be how we best prepare for those incidences.
DOUG SIMON: So do you think creating The SPOKEies™ and getting people to participate, nominate others, contribute to the tips and best practice– can that actually move the needle and help improve performance for spokespeople at brands, corporations, and nonprofits?
NEIL FOOTE: I think now more than ever we need an organization to support each other. Right? We need some shared practices. I don’t know everything, but I know when I get in a tough situation I will pick up a phone or email some of my colleagues who are already doing what I’m doing, in some cases longer than I have or other folks who’ve been engaged in situations where they’ve handled similar situations.
To be able to recognize folks who are doing great work, sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes in organizations where they know the right thing to do– right?– but they have to really work with their executives from the C-suite to educate them in many cases how best to communicate with media and how media work.
So these awards are right on time at a time we need to recognize those who are doing great work, those who are sharing great stories, those who are representing their brands in many different ways under in some cases very difficult circumstances.
DOUG SIMON: You’ve also been an awesome mentor, because you’re often at the other end of the phone or email when people need help, in your role as president of the National Black Public Relations Society. Thanks so much for all your commitment to PR, and thanks for being with us.
NEIL FOOTE: Thank you so much. I look forward to the awards and working with my compadres around the country.