Post-Truth, Alt-Facts & Fake News: Survival Tips for Today’s Corporate Spokespeople

By | January 24, 2017

Various microphones aligned at press conference isolated over a white background

It isn’t easy to be a company spokesperson. And no matter how many times you’ve created messaging, prepped a spokesperson or trained a spokesperson, you don’t really get it until you do it. In the times I’ve done it (vs. told my client how to do it), I’ve been struck by the broad range of skills necessary to be prepared to answer (or not answer) pretty much anything someone can conjure up. And I have ever growing respect for people who do it well, even if they are representing causes, issues or ideologies I don’t really agree with.

The world is changing rapidly, and adding complexity to an already difficult job. In a post-truth environment, where emotion trumps fact (no pun intended), when people are making decisions about everything from the beverages they drink to their investments to the selection of their leaders, the typical “just the facts ma’am” no longer works. In some cases, the facts may even be irrelevant.

I’ve written before about the importance of spokespeople being honest brokers of information. The idea that post-truth is creating an environment of “alternative facts” is troubling for our profession, and should not be viewed as permission to abandon our commitments to transparency. Trust is declining, yet ironically it remains a greens fee for any Company’s license to operate.

So what’s a spokesperson to do:

  1. Adopt a collegial, even informal style – Post-truth is about creating emotional connections. It is simple to take the leap that facts don’t matter, but the reality is that facts must be delivered in a manner that encourages emotional connectivity. We trust (and like) people, not companies. Spokespeople have a unique opportunity to be the emotion-broker between brands and their stakeholders by being relatable, approachable and engaging those constituencies in a “people like me.” What you say and how you say it have become equally important. Informal, collegial delivery styles will be more effective than the typical, formal “corporate spokesperson” of the past. Let your brand love show.
  2. Remember that frequency matters – For people to feel they know the brand, they need to feel they know you (and the leadership of your company) so their connection feels more like a relationship. So if you typically make your rounds once a year at the annual trade show, that may not be enough. This may mean more willingness to talk about things that are not directly about your product or your company. Get out there more often, and don’t forget that the news media is just one avenue. Consider video content as a means of building rapport while telling your story.
  3. Think of yourself as the narrator, not the lead actor – Authenticity is one of the greatest currencies of the post-truth environment, and social media gives the authentic advocates for your brand a platform to share their stories. Spokespeople don’t have all the answers. Sometimes the best answers, and stories, come from the community of fans you’ve built over time. A spokesperson has a unique opportunity to narrate your company story. Consider opportunities to amplify the authentic stories and voices of your community, rather than just serving up soundbites.
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