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Choosing Spokespeople

Choosing and preparing the best spokespeople for media work is as critical as proper message development. Environmental organizations typically want to pick one official spokesperson for all issues - usually the executive director or president. However, it may be more beneficial to identify and prepare an array of spokespeople on a variety of subjects that your organization cares about.

Below are some suggestions for choosing and preparing spokespeople.

Go Beyond the Usual Suspects

Consider looking outside the "usual suspects". Consider research scientists, legal experts, economists, academics, consumer advocates (for magazines or television particularly), doctors, elected officials, and agency representatives who can lend your organization outsider credibility. Working with great representatives from other types of advocate organizations, such as the PTA or religious organizations, also helps you present a compelling, well-rounded story to the media.

If your organization or your speakers are considered to be "extremists," then you may want to consider reaching out to representatives or groups who are seen to occupy a more "middle" ground. For example, an environmental group with a very strong stance on endocrine disruptors may want to consider including a representative from a government agency, consumer's group, or other organizations the press and public consider more moderate.

Speaker Control

When recruiting potential speakers outside of your organization, you must be sure their message serves your purpose. It can be catastrophic for your organization if, in the middle of a press briefing, your speakers are not properly articulating your message - or worse, espousing the opposite point of view. Be sure to properly prepare and "vett" speakers before an event or interview. Check their credentials with other experts in the environmental, scientific, or legal communities.

To vett a speaker - or check their credibility - call them to discuss the topic in which you are interested. Tell them your organization is considering a press event (or other work) on the subject. Explain that you are looking for as much information as possible and want to speak with a variety of experts. Have they published anything themselves on the issue? What are their viewpoints? Have they ever dealt with the press? Don't promise anything until you have checked them out thoroughly.

Finally, make sure that speakers are all well-versed in what has previously been said to reporters on the issue at hand. Outline the points that need to be made, establish who will touch on which key points, and discuss the time allotted to each. See section on Interviewing.

Consider a Debate

If you feel that it will lend credibility to your story, and you have extremely strong speakers, organize a debate or at least offer the "other side" the opportunity to speak at your briefing or interview. You may also need to make this call if reporters indicate that getting both sides of the story is critical to making the news - at least in this situation, you can offer three speakers from your side and offer one slot to the other side. This can lend a great deal of credibility to your event in the eyes of the media.

When deciding to invite the competition, be sure that your messages and speakers are unbeatable and that it will make a significant difference in the amount and quality of press coverage.

For example, the highly charged controversy over energy policies following the Kyoto Climate talks presented the environmental community with a wonderful opportunity to host a debate. A formal press conference-style debate featuring two excellent speakers from the environmental community and two less impressive representatives from industry resulted in a rousing "win" for the environmental community and some great press coverage.

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