Who is your spokesperson? Why does it matter? What makes a spokesperson great?
Over the last decade, Eidson & Partners has trained more than 1,200 speakers across multiple industries to represent their brands. Throughout this process, we’ve noticed that there are some clear patterns to what works and why. In this series, I’ll be examining different approaches to developing great spokespeople and delivering impactful messaging.
The PR field has rapidly evolved as the social media era has taken hold. New platforms for public engagement have redefined both who is thought of as a spokesperson or influencer and how they spread their brand’s message to their audience. When everyone within a company or brand has a public profile, there are countless opportunities to tell a brand’s story to the public. Who can make the greatest impact?
The Charismatic Leader
From Steve Jobs to Richard Branson to Elon Musk, there is ample evidence that a charismatic leader can make an enormous impact on public perception. Jobs, arguably the first and finest to fit this model, made his first big splash as the face of the Apple brand when introducing the first iPod in 2001. Apple stuck with this winning formula, and each Steve Jobs Keynote became an anticipated event across the tech world and beyond.
As brand spokesperson, Jobs’ strength was his precision. The message he delivered was verbally precise and the visual component was choreographed to maximum effect. As the story of each new product or iteration unfolded, complete with setup, twists, and big reveals, we sat glued to our screens. Jobs embraced his position as spokesperson with consistency – his signature uniform of a black mock turtleneck and jeans provided an undercurrent of stability in contrast to Apple’s ever-evolving product lines.
When a brand has a charismatic leader like Jobs or Branson, it makes sense to place them at the forefront. A word of caution, however – unless the leader is up for the challenge, the results can be disastrous.
The Professional Face
When a brand leader isn’t cut out for the limelight, the company often turns to a PR professional to be its public face. These well-trained individuals are often very skilled at interacting with the press and can deftly shape a brand narrative in times of success or crisis. However, they often lack the relatability that makes a truly successful spokesperson resonate with customers (hence the difficulty of finding examples of beloved PR figures). In our social media-enabled culture, brand audiences are looking for someone they can relate to. Today’s PR professional has increasingly found their greatest impact on the business world to be in an advisory capacity behind-the-scenes.
The Social Media Influencer
Many brands have had great success with spokespeople from the entertainment field, whether models, bloggers, YouTube stars, or Hollywood actors. This type of partnership allows a brand to leverage their spokesperson’s existing base of followers to reach a targeted demographic of likely customers. While in the past their participation may have been confined to print ads or commercials, these days social media is often the focus – capitalizing on the influencer’s outsized presence on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Whether they’re making a likely match like Nicole Kidman for Chanel, or an unlikely one like Jon Stewart for Arby’s, brands gain major exposure when they bring a high-profile influencer on board. Sometimes referred to as “brand ambassadors” or “advocates,” these public figures bring their charm, finesse, and following to bear on a brand’s message. As a less expensive alternative, many brands have reached out to lifestyle or industry bloggers to review products and help deliver their narrative to the public.
There is a substantial risk to taking on a public figure as a brand spokesperson. The spectacular fall from grace of Jared Fogle, who was the face of Subway for well over a decade, serves as a cautionary tale in this regard.
The Person on the Ground
Perhaps the most underutilized and underappreciated spokespeople, these individuals don’t require million-dollar contracts or Master’s degrees in marketing communications. Whether intentionally or not, they’re already presenting the face of your company to customers and your community. Today, your employees have a larger platform than ever before to speak on behalf of your brand. If you’re not making them a part of your public face, you’re missing out on a major opportunity.
Not only do current employees know your brand inside and out, they play a vital role in providing your product or service to the customer. They have a privileged insight into what makes the brand tick and how it connects with its audience or not. That’s why deputizing employees as spokespeople is a powerful move. They have the ability to make a personal connection with their audience and provide a window into the brand’s inner workings, an impactful combination that deserves more attention and opportunity.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring this opportunity further. What does a brand gain when it enables the unexpected spokesperson? How can it shape a compelling narrative and connect with a broader audience? Stay tuned to find out.