“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett.

Corporate spokespeople are the face of any company. What they say, how they say it and to whom they say it plays a fundamental role in building a perception of a company and ultimately their reputation. So why is it that many company spokespeople appear not to be trained in dealing with difficult questions from the media or the general public?

We have all seen and heard cringe-worthy media interviews. How can companies safeguard reputations when engaging with the media? Regine le Roux, Managing Director of corporate reputation management agency Reputation Matters, advises, “Any business owner or employee who is selected as a company’s spokesperson needs to undergo comprehensive media training before speaking on their company’s behalf.

“It is so important to understand how to maximise a media interview and to know what journalists in the different media channels (print, broadcast and online) are looking for. For example, how you engage with a print media journalist is quite different from a live broadcast interview; with print media you have a bit more time on your side to get your messages across and you can also share background information and different statistics; whereas with a live radio interview the amount of time that you have to get your key messages across is very limited. Believe me, more often than not the interview will be over much sooner that you thought,” says le Roux.

Media interviews can provide the perfect platform for a company to turn a crisis into an opportunity by training its spokesperson in the art of transparency, empathy and accountability. “It pays to invest in media training for your team. Practicing pre-recorded ‘real life’ interview scenarios with a film crew and media interviewer is invaluable training; it will prepare you to learn lessons before having to conduct a live interview,” comments le Roux. “It’s a daunting task being put in the spotlight on TV or radio, so a well-prepared spokesperson can easily overcome the initial anxiety, focus on the content they want to cover and keep in control of the interview.

It is important to note that there is no such thing as “no comment” adds le Roux, “If a spokesperson is unavailable or refuses to comment, that in itself is a comment! It immediately raises suspicions about an organisation’s reputation. It’s critical to build good relationships with journalists by asking them what their deadlines are and ensuring you respond in time with an official comment.”

It’s not only the content of a comment which counts, but the way a spokesperson speaks – the rhythm, pitch and tone of their voice, their body language and demeanour. “Although organisations are often concerned with profits and long-term plans, it’s critical to understand that a reputation can be negatively affected by just one media interview where a spokesperson fumbles their response or behaves in an aggressive and defensive manner.

“Knowing the media landscape in South Africa, how to interact with different kinds of journalists and what information they find useful will also put company spokespeople ahead of the pack. A good understanding of the do’s and don’ts in media interviews is essential, and an effective and cooperative spokesperson is worth gold to any company,” concludes le Roux.

Reputation Matters offers comprehensive media training packages for companies to equip corporate spokespeople with the necessary tools and tips to conduct effective media interviews with print, broadcast and online media.

For more information on managing and investing in your reputation, contact info@reputationmatters.co.za | 011 317 3861 (Jhb) | 021 790 0208 (Cpt) or visit www.reputationmatters.co.za. We are also on Facebook www.facebook.com/yourreputationmatters and Twitter @ReputationIsKey

About Reputation Matters

Reputation Matters is not just another PR company, we are so much more! We measure five core dimensions of the organisation using our unique Repudometer®research tool to understand what is building or breaking down the reputation.

We have been looking after reputations for the past ten years, with at least a threefold return on investment for our clients.

About Regine le Roux

Regine is a corporate reputation specialist. She completed her Communication Management Honours degree Cum Laude at the University of Pretoria in 2001, and completed her MCom within a year. Regine is the founder of Reputation Matters, which was started in 2005; she hand picks and manages several teams that implement communication strategies. Regine developed the Repudometer®, which is one of the first tools that has been developed to measure organisational reputation.

Regine has mentored several students with their MBA thesis submissions at the Milpark Business School in Johannesburg. In 2008, the company expanded to Cape Town. Regine is the Chairperson for the Western Cape Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA) Committee, and is also on the Board of the Rotary Club of Newlands, responsible for Public Image, as well as the Chairperson for Rotary International’s District 9350 (Western Cape, Northern Cape, Namibia and Angola) Public Image.