Spokesperson in Management: Definition, Lesson & Quiz
What is a spokesperson? Can anyone be a spokesperson, or only supermodels and CEO's? How does it fit in with other managerial responsibilities? This lesson explains the spokesperson managerial role, one of ten managerial roles defined by Henry Mintzberg.
What Is the Spokesperson Role?
If you were asked to be a spokesperson for a company, or even a small department, do you think your friends might be impressed? Generally, when someone becomes a manager they become a spokesperson as well. Remember, though, not every spokesperson is a highly visible CEO or famous supermodel; the receptionist in the lobby is the often the first spokesperson encountered by visitors. The role involves the company's written or oral external communication.
Managers with spokesperson responsibilities also have other roles at work. Based on his observational research of CEOs, Professor Henry Mintzberg described ten managerial roles grouped into three general categories: decisional, informational, and interpersonal. Spokesperson is the most public of the three informational managerial roles.
Company stakeholders want the corporate message to communicate a clear, consistent and positive image of the company's 'personality'. This image is the public relations strategy for the company. It's like the gear that drives the different reasons an organization might have for communicating to the public, like marketing a product or service, damage control of the company's reputation, or emergency management during a disaster.
Let's take a look at each aspect of the spokesperson role in the context of this external messaging during a hypothetical global catastrophe - the zombie apocalypse. Imagine that verified reports of zombification have spread to all corners of the globe; the U.S. has been able to keep the zombie population fairly controlled. Most people are still going about their daily activities, but taking reasonable precautions. How will spokespeople manage marketing opportunities, damage control/emergency management, and public relations in the face of a dramatically changing culture?
Marketing is all about informing the public of services or products that will solve a specific problem. Marketing can also be about defining an unrealized problem or creating a need the consumer was not previously aware of in order to position new products and services.
When a manager is overseeing a print, radio, on-line, or TV marketing campaign, he or she is creating a message about the company to disseminate externally, and is thereby taking on the role of company spokesperson. If a manager were to unveil a new product at a tradeshow or make a pitch for funding, for example, those responsibilities would also fall under the spokesperson role.
What does marketing for the zombie apocalypse look like? Consumers are suddenly faced with a new problem. They are now at risk of being eaten by zombies! The chemists at Miracle Pill Pharmaceutical Company recognize a new market and have quickly responded to this problem by creating 'Zombie Zapp.' They turn to Joan, marketing director at Miracle Pill, to develop a campaign for the new product.
Joan and her team carefully select the colors and images on the can, choose words and phrases appealing to their target market of terrified humans, and create a multimedia product launch. Before releasing any materials, Joan is sure to get approval from the president of Miracle Pill, who personally signs off on each phase of the campaign. Although Joan does not speak directly to the public, she is still acting as spokesperson by crafting a message about the company for external distribution.
Damage Control and Emergency Management
Damage control and emergency management are essentially two sides of the same coin. Where damage control attempts to change the public's opinion by rehabilitating an organization's image after a negative event, the goal in emergency management is to educate or inform the public so that they change their behavior before or during a crisis. Spokespeople are essential in either case in communicating the desired public response.
In our zombie apocalypse scenario, let's assume spokespeople at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called a series of press conferences to address appropriate prevention and response the global zombie threat. The CDC is attempting to keep the zombie population stable and prevent a panic through emergency management techniques.
At the same time, rumors are circulating in the blogosphere that Miracle Pill Pharmaceutical intentionally released a zombie virus in order to create a market for 'Zombie Zapp.' Miracle Pill responds by broadcasting public service announcements featuring a famous actor who stars as a doctor in a highly rated hospital drama. This actor reassures the public by promoting a viable alternate theory that the virus has natural causes. He also emphasizes Miracle Pill's role in containing the spread of the disease. This actor is a spokesperson for Miracle Pill attempting to save the company's reputation through damage control.
The Public Relations Society of America defines PR as 'a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.' This 'strategic communication process' is largely focused on personifying an institution by associating it with human qualities. Consider how spokespeople from different industries present a company as having human characteristics such as honesty, sophistication, or quirkiness. The public relations process is strategic in that a corporate persona is created and all external messages, even from different spokespeople, reinforce the desired image.
Two years into the apocalypse, it becomes clear that as long as there are no new cases, the existing zombie populations will eventually fall to pieces (although it may take years). Of course, the zombies can't conduct a PR campaign because they lack the intelligence to be strategic. Or communicate.
But, for the sake of argument, let's assume there are some open-minded humans who'd like to create a positive persona for zombies. They hire We'll Spin Anything Consulting to de-emphasize the brain-eating aspect, focus on the fact that zombies were once human, and promote zombification as an unfortunate natural disease. They show footage of zombies in their previous lives and suggest they should be treated with compassion using the slogan 'Zombies need love too.'
Our fictional zombie apocalypse scenario provides clear examples of the different nuances to the spokesperson role. Marketing, damage control/emergency management, and public relations are all elements to a spokesperson's responsibilities. Although some managers may specialize in one specific area during their careers, it is likely that activities in these areas will overlap to serve multiple purposes. Understanding the overall unified company image that drives external messages is key to a spokesperson's success.
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