OPINION: The Big Question - Do you need public relations experience to be a spokesperson?/Microsoft is, for the first time, empowering its spokespeople to make statements on behalf of the company. These people, the company says, do not need to have a back

DOUGLAS HAYWARD

DOUGLAS HAYWARD



Computing magazine



’No, you just need to know what you are talking about. One of the

frustrations of IT journalism is dealing with PR people who are not

technically-minded.



PR people should be good at identifying the right people to put in front

of journalists. Once they have done that, they should fade into the

background.



Journalists are always complaining about Microsoft’s PR, but maybe it’s

not surprising when you realise Microsoft likes to control the flow of

information. Some companies have tried what Microsoft is doing before -

ICL used to have spokespeople in the same way and it improved

understanding of the company.’



KATIE KEMP



August.One



’No. You need a little training, but I would argue that the ability to

articulate complex strategies is far more important than media or PR

experience.



What you do need is a passion for, or knowledge of, your subject. With a

little training, anyone can develop the ability not to open their mouth

until they know what you are talking about or say ’Can I call you back

on that’. It is common sense, but maybe a little revolutionary in PR

terms.



The nature of journalism means there is often a purpose in having a PR

filter to help a spokesperson prepare for the questions they may be

asked, but if all you are doing is filtering calls and finding the right

executive, then where are you adding value to the business?’



DAISY SAMPSON



Senior press secretary to Charles Kennedy



’I don’t necessarily think you need PR experience to be a spokesperson

so long as you have the necessary qualities. You need to be articulate,

to be able to think on your feet, and to have an in-depth knowledge of

your subject. The only other thing you need is to know the relevant

media. The Microsoft people will probably need some PR infrastructure

around them and maybe some advice, but the speed at which Microsoft will

be able to respond to stories under this arrangement will be of great

benefit to the company - a bit like the Labour Party’s rapid rebuttal

unit, which allowed them to counter anything the Tories said quickly.

There’s probably a lesson there for public relations generally.’



WILL WHITEHORN



Virgin



’This is interesting, because Microsoft asked us a little while back if

they could come and look at what we do here. What Microsoft is trying to

achieve is not an easy thing. But spokespeople do not, in general, need

media training. The most important thing is that they are people with

the right personality - people who are calm and do not get rattled, who

have an encyclopedic knowledge of their subject. I think the problem is

that many organisations devolve the process of dealing with the media

from the management. I think this is wrong. At Virgin, we have senior

management who meet journalists face-to-face, and as director of

corporate affairs, I am personally involved in the management of the

organisation. I think that this makes a big difference to our media

relations.’



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