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Edward Bernays would dig me. Seasoned public relations strategist (10+ years in the game) who has practiced PR in multiple cities: Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago & DC. I'm an observationist and a soon to be card carrying member of the Twitterati. I love comfortable silences, revel in the Seinfeldian absurdities of life and have been described as a habitual line stepper. These are my thoughts...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Excuse Me While I Put On My Public Face

“It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story”Native American Proverb

Recently, I asked my Twitter followers if it was a smart PR strategy to limit an organization to only one voice/face, or to allow for many voices. The way I see it, organizations have a choice and whichever approach that is adapted, there will be pluses and minuses.

To use a hip hop analogy, a company can be like Nas (All I need is one mic) or it can take the Wu-tang Clan, 36 Chambers approach (everybody has a mic and something to say). Typically, this would be where I would walk through the dynamics of both approaches and discuss the good and bad of each. But at this point in my career, I’ve come to embrace one method more than the other, so that will be the one I highlight.

Organizations today go through painstaking efforts to control the perception of their brand. They also go through a whole lot of effort to ensure that their brand takes up residence in that public relations nirvana known as Mindspace.

For those that forgot about this one-time PR buzz word du jour, in the simplest of explanations mindspace refers to how much an idea captures the audience. Some communicators believe that repetition of message or repetition of a specific delivery of message eventually takes hold and becomes entrenched in the receiver’s subconscious (also referred to as mindspace).

And what the hell does this have to do with employing one organizational spokesperson versus many? Well if an organization selected one person to be its public face and this person could deliver key messages strongly and was perceived as believable by external audiences, then this tactic could go a long way toward securing valuable mindspace. The use of a single voice also would allow an organization to have better control of its message and brand image. Typically, the person given this responsibility would be a company’s CEO, the VP of Communications, chairman of the board, or in some rare instances the head of legal.

However, that is not the strategy I endorse (didn’t see that one coming, did you?). Much like the old Indian proverb I shared at the beginning of this post, I believe it takes multiple voices within an organization to tell its story. One person can’t be expected to know everything there is to know about an organization’s operation; especially to any large degree of detail.

Back in my agency life, one of the account teams I led represented a very successful local hospital in S.E. Michigan. While this particular hospital wasn’t as large or had as many beds as some of its competitors in the region, my team was able to keep them positively covered by the media and top of mind as a healthcare provider of choice. And how were we able to accomplish this? One way we achieved success was by remaining ever aggressive in positioning this hospital with the media, but the other good thing that we did was to promote any army of voices.

In order to successfully implement this tactic, you have to identify individuals within an organization that are experts within a certain subject matter. For example with this hospital, when we wanted to discuss the business of healthcare, the introduction of new products/services or healthcare leadership in general, we tapped the CEO. If we wanted to talk about healthcare insights, operating procedures or certain types of prevention we tapped a physician. When it came to other key areas of healthcare, we positioned a variety of other staffers.

The key in making this really work was in first identifying media friendly staffers, who would also be good ambassadors of the brand. Second, we made sure they all experienced some degree of media training. In the end we got to increase the probability of securing news coverage and increasingly became a go to resource for the media covering healthcare.

This particular organization could’ve easily said no, we don’t want our unit managers or physicians speaking to the media, we don’t trust what they might say. But they believed in the process and trusted our counsel. In the end they were rewarded with a sizeable amount of media coverage and industry recognition in a very competitive market.

So that’s why I’m rolling with the Wu-tang Clan approach. But I’d be interested in getting your take…


  1. The problem is that it can be very difficult to limit an organization to just one spokesperson. If you have a Dr presenting on a panel at a major conference on a topic and a reporter comes up afterwards with follow-up questions, it's awfully lame for the Dr to have to say "sorry, I can't talk to the media."

  2. TJ, I agree with you. Trying to control who says what to whom is difficult. And in the scenario you painted, it should have been okay for the Dr. to talk to the reporter. But I don't advocate everybody talking to the media without first clearing it with the PR department.