Choosing Spokespeople

Busy reporters rushing against deadline tend to go with the spokespeople you pitch to them. Those spokes- people should embody your narrative, including the values and human consequences at stake, the hard facts and statistics, and the systemic problems and solutions. They should include people with whom your audiences can identify, and where possible, some unexpected voices. In a way, it’s like casting a blockbuster movie: the larger story should drive your individual decisions.

  • Look outside the management team. In many organizations, the executive director and key staff are responsible for being spokespersons. This is not always the best choice. Choose your spokespersons based on how appealing to and effective with media they are, rather than on their seniority.
  • Look outside your organization. It’s important that the voice of people directly affected by the issue are included in the media. Community spokespersons represent “real people.” Choose members of the affected community who can speak with authority, whom audiences will easily respect, and who can powerfully present the issue in terms of institutions and broad themes, not just in terms of isolated negative personal impacts.
  • Look outside your issue. People not typically associated with your campaign can often validate your position with new audiences. They can also broaden the frame. For example, having law enforcement officers speak on behalf of convicted juveniles seeking fair sentencing conveys a message from those regarded as “tough on crime” calling for reform that opponents might otherwise frame as being “soft on crime.” Another example would be to have local leaders, such as firefighters or schoolteachers, speak out on abuses against immigrants.
  • Look the part. Remember the blockbuster movie analogy; if your story includes farmers talking about migrant labor, they should dress like farmers, not business people. If your spokespeople are police officers, they should—to the extent that departmental rules allow—speak to the press in uniform. Similarly, the setting for a press briefing or event should match the story you want to tell.
  • Give them the tools they need to stay on message. It might be helpful to conduct practice interviews with each of your spokespeople, finding where common themes intersect and if your narrative can be heard in what they say. This could help you strengthen your own talking points and begin to collect sound bites for press releases and pitch letters that you will send to editors and reporters.