When spokespeople get jinxed!

It’s always exciting when you have a media interview lined up for your client. I agree, it’s super strenuous. After all the pitch emails drafted and rejected; eventually settling on what you feel is the meatiest. Getting those prized interviews early are critical career milestones. It encourages you as a public relations professional, helps you grow faster.

It’s also an opportunity for you to know more about your spokesperson in real-time. Learn about the company you are servicing from a different perspective as the journalist questions your client. 

I was moved to a new client; a top brand. It had been only 3 months (servicing the account) for me, and I managed to secure a feature with a mainstream publication. I had met the journalist previously and was looking forward to the interview. This was going to be easy-peasy. The journalist wanted to understand this part of the business and had some ideas concerning a feature where my client would be the focus. She even shared the questions in advance. I was stoked!

I had prepped the client with questions the journalist had shared, and included a few others I expected made sense to get a fuller story. I briefed him about the publication and the journalist. He was excited as well, and was looking forward to doing this interview. 

Three days prior to the interview the spokesperson started to panic. I had never experienced someone panic this bad!

“What if she writes something negative?”

“What if she makes an error?”

“What if she asks forward-looking questions?”

To each of these silly ones I responded confidently assuring him that all will be well; all he had to do was be sure of what he knew and state the facts. If there was any other necessary information, I would pass them on after doing the necessary research.

I felt as if someone had scared him about interviewing with the media in India. (He handled the international side of the business and had never spoken to the media here; overall, he had done some interviews with local print media in the US). I knew this in advance, and made sure that he was well-prepped. During the training, 3 weeks ago, he never showed any sign of fear or doubt. I had assured him in every way I could just to be safer and do my bit as a PR rep. 

I reassured him it will be fine, even went to the extent that he could get me fired if it went awry. After we spoke, I called up the Marketing Head about the entire episode. He assessed the situation and requested me to go ahead with it. I did not want to cancel the interview because I was confident it would come out well. All it required was preparing for those answers well in advance and saving everyone’s time.

Come interview day, the spokesperson failed to muster enough courage to answer the questions confidently. Short, abrupt responses that hardly befitted a mention, forget a feature. What could have been a fine interview that should have lasted 30-40 minutes; wrapped up in 5 minutes. It was embarrassing, and I apologised to the journalist. She was kind enough to send me a few more questions just so that she could at least get some written responses. 

The Marketing Head ensured I never had to use the same spokesperson again.

My client did get featured thanks to written responses the Marketing Head pushed out of his engineering colleagues. Thank God for mature journalists.

As a PR professional you cannot be sure of anything till the coverage is out. It was a good lesson (early in my career) for future interviews and a spokesperson experience to use as a case study during media training.

What’s been your worst spokesperson experience? I’d love to read about your encounter.


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