How to Be a Better Brand Spokesperson Than Mark Zuckerberg

Recently, during a live stream of Facebook’s weekly internal Q&A meeting, Mark Zuckerberg shared, “I do such a bad job at interviews.” When the CEO of a company with a market cap of over $500 billion admits that he does a poor job at press interviews, it makes you wonder: What makes for a good brand spokesperson?

Recently, during a live stream of Facebook’s weekly internal Q&A meeting, Mark Zuckerberg shared, “I do such a bad job at interviews.” When the CEO of a company with a market cap of over $500 billion admits that he does a poor job at press interviews, it makes you wonder: What makes for a good interview?

For starters, the quality of an interview should be judged from both the perspective of the interview subject (and their company) as well as the reporter (and their publication). I’ve worked with dozens of spokespeople over the years and have facilitated good, bad and, quite frankly, ugly interviews.

The likelihood of a good interview increases greatly if you identify spokespeople with certain innate qualities. Good interviews are also the result of proper preparation and training.

4 Requirements of Good Brand Spokespeople

Whether a company is big or small, there should be an arsenal of spokespeople to cover a variety of topics that will boost the corporate reputation. The best place to begin selecting your spokespeople is with these four requirements: interest, availability, knowledge, and title.

Interest

If a spokesperson isn’t interested in participating in interviews or doesn’t see the value, then guess what? They won’t be good at them. Public relations teams should educate their spokespeople on PR goals and share examples and results, especially over time, to maintain interest.

Availability

In the digital and social media age, the news cycle is rapid. If a spokesperson can’t respond within minutes or hours, they will miss out on opportunities.

Don’t assume travel means a spokesperson isn’t available. I’ve worked with colleagues who are road warriors, but make the time for interviews from airports, hotels, and cars. I’ve even done chat and email interviews with spokespeople who are in-flight.

Knowledge

An interview is an opportunity to share knowledge specific to a story topic. If a spokesperson doesn’t know what they’re talking about, they make themselves and their company look bad. A brand spokesperson should be a subject matter expert and, in partnership with the PR team, the interviewee should do additional research ahead of time.

Title

Not all brand spokespeople are created equal in the eyes of the press. Certain roles and titles garner more media interest than others. More often than not, reporters prefer the opportunity to speak to a CEO or other member of the C-suite. It’s very difficult to get a reporter excited about speaking to a sales leader.

Going From Good to Great

Now that you’ve got someone who is a willing participant and knows what they’re talking about, there are a number of other factors that will make for an engaging and valuable interview, for both the company and the publication.

Unique and Timely POV

Contrarian and provocative points of view make for more interesting stories and help reporters provide a balance of ideas. A brand interviewee should be able to speak to relevant and timely matters, and provide perspective on what’s to come.

Sincerity

A good brand spokesperson, much like a good politician, is likeable, genuine, and sincere. When Mark Zuckerberg sat down with CNN in March 2018, following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, he was robotic and dodged a lot of the issues, as noted by the BBC.

Clarity

Interviews can last a few minutes or hours. However, that doesn’t mean a brand spokesperson should ramble. It’s important to be clear and concise. The best spokespeople repeat their key points and pause periodically to allow reporters to ask follow-up questions. Training and preparation provide an opportunity to pinpoint key messages and practice concise delivery.

Good Judgment

Even with extensive preparation and a public relations representative facilitating an interview, there’s onus on the brand spokesperson to exercise good judgment when asked a tough question, or in general. Elon Musk’s erratic behavior in interviews and with the media makes him a liability, not an asset, when it comes to interviews.

Open to Feedback

There’s always room for improvement, when it comes to interviews. Feedback, during the pre-interview prep work and post-interview, is critically important for a successful partnership between the brand spokesperson and the PR team.

Empathy

Journalism has transformed in the last two decades. Many publications have shifted to digital platforms, while numerous publications have folded. Reporter deadlines are tight and workdays are long. Spokespeople who can empathize with the position a reporter is in will be better interview subjects.

To help my spokespeople understand the reporters they speak with, I’ve not only focused on general media training (i.e. message development, interview tactics) but have also shared “a day in the life” of a reporter.

Ready for Prime Time

Rarely, will you find a brand spokesperson who has all of the skills and characteristics outlined above. However, with the right partnership between PR and spokespeople, companies can be well-represented in press interviews and can forge relationships that will help tell their story and improve their reputation.

Digital Onslaught: I’m Losing My Brain, and What’s Left Is Being Rewired

I am convinced that the ubiquity of and access to knowledge—largely digital and increasingly mobile—that I have come to depend upon today is rewiring my brain. What I used to commit to memory, I increasingly assign to libraries on my computer and in the cloud. Am I being lazy, or old, or am I equipping myself to a new age of information—and analysis-on-command?

I am convinced that the ubiquity of and access to knowledge—largely digital and increasingly mobile—that I have come to depend upon today is rewiring my brain. What I used to commit to memory, I increasingly assign to libraries on my computer and in the cloud. Am I being lazy, or old, or am I equipping myself to a new age of information—and analysis-on-command? While the pursuit of knowledge is universal, perhaps how the next generation learns is different from how I learn, or used to learn. I’m late to the party, and I am either caught or willfully going through the transition.

I am not alone. The collective universe of the human brain is being rewired by digital communication: Out of necessity, the brain is being “trained” to skim instead of read. Even worse, British researchers are now theorizing and calling for further study on the possibility that simultaneous multi-screen viewing may destroy brain grey matter.

To counteract this “danger,” perhaps it is necessary to set aside time to read—the way we used to. Parents should assign books for their kids to read from cover-to-cover, and preferably in print and not on tablets. I make sure to read The Economist in print from cover to cover, but I had better put some books back in the mix fast. Discipline dictates that you should not rely solely on screens to absorb knowledge—because maybe you won’t absorb any all, and even if you do, it won’t be accurate.

One expert—who is committed to reading books online—says the only way to absorb knowledge on a screen is to physically take notes on what you’ve just read. The act of writing helps to commit the content to memory.

This is pretty serious stuff. I wonder if we really are having our brains rewired—or diminished—by digital media, just what do society, education and family households need to do counteract this phenomenon? Yes, we need to skim, but the Slow Reading Movement needs to take hold.

You can start by not reading this blog—online that is.

Chicago With a Purpose: Wrapping up the DMA2013 Session Picks

With apology, I want to say that this blog is a little about me—what topics I’m interested in, and sharing a little bit of this knowledge (or lack of knowledge) with blog readers. In the process, I’m hopeful you’re doing the same bit of pre-conference research—because it is this forethought and planning, beyond the engagements and booth visits on the Exhibit Hall floor, which make for a truly informative DMA13 conference

With apology, I want to say that this blog is a little about me—what topics I’m interested in, and sharing a little bit of this knowledge (or lack of knowledge) with blog readers. In the process, I’m hopeful you’re doing the same bit of pre-conference research—because it is this forethought and planning, beyond the engagements and booth visits on the Exhibit Hall floor, which make for a truly informative DMA13 conference

With the Direct Marketing Association Annual Conference starting literally at the end of this week, I’m still at it here lining up MyDMA2013 schedule with sessions I’d like to attend—admittedly doing some double-booking because of the great, comprehensive content on offer.

Yes clients and professional colleagues are on hand, and I’ll be sitting in on some of their sessions—but my guideposts for session picks are simply the subjects to which I welcome new learning, new updates and state-of-the-art in data-driven marketing such as it is. That’s why “The DMA” is always a conference attendance “must.”

A few weeks back, I cataloged some of first-impression session and events picks here: http://targetmarketing.adweek.com/blog/creeping-up-fast-dma13-making-plans-chicago

I’m hopeful our paths will cross in Chicago as I add 10+1 to the session wish list here…

  1. Who drives client relationships and customer engagement today? Advertising. “Mad Men + Data Specialists: When Two Worlds Collide,” Tuesday, Oct. 15, 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m.
  2. Follow the money (and media) trail… “Outlook 2014: Data Driven Marketing in an Omnichannel World,” with The Winterberry Group’s Bruce Biegel, darnnit, also Tuesday, Oct. 15, 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m.
  3. And trending too, “B2B Trends in 2014” with SAP’s Jerry Nichols, B-to-B magazine’s Chris Hosford and leading biz marketing consultant Pam Ansley Evans: Monday, Oct. 14, 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
  4. “The Big Data Ecosystem: Informing Effective Marketing Campaigns,” with Time Warner Cable—curses, also yet again, Tuesday, Oct.15, 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. This is really a parochial pick, since my apartment building is now allowing RCN to enter my building—and I’m curious to see (finally) if TWC will give me a better deal on pricing its services.
  5. Multichannel (yet digital) ROI—too bad we don’t have offline here, too, but it has some client-side folks, “No BS, Strictly ROI: Definitive Case Study Panel on Successful Multichannel Digital Marketing” with Intercontinental Hotels Group, Travel Impressions, Equifax and FedEx, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m.
  6. Pinterest + Email = Customer Engagement, with Sony and (disclosure, former client) The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks—now here’s a social media case study that taps Pinterest users, first I’ve seen in a venue that I’ve attended, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
  7. “Creative Masterclass” with “THE” Herschell Gordon Lewis, and it won’t be a horror film classic (one of Herschell’s other talents), but I know it will be entertaining, focusing as it will on word choices and testing with minimal waste. Afterall, we all should test and choose our words carefully, on Monday, Oct. 14, 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
  8. “USPS Goes Mobile: Direct Mail Integration with Mobile Technology”—hey this is a postal-focused blog, and USPS is offering postage discounts here, so there is money to be made/saved: Monday, Oct. 14, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  9. Evaluating marketing service providers—”Why You Must Look at Least Three: Solutions Showdown.” Yes Bernice Grossman—database marketing extraordinaire—has lined up Neolane, SDL and IBM to help us evaluate and compare leading trigger-marketing vendors, on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2 p.m. to3 p.m
  10. The elusive attribution question gets answered, at least by Petco: “Power-Up: How Petco Uses IBM Marketing to Drive Attribution.” OK, this is an IBM-sponsored track on real-time and automated marketing, but I know many brands struggle with attribution assignment in multichannel and omnichannel environments, so I’d like to hear this case study, Monday, Oct. 14, oh well also 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  11. AND a BONUS: Speaking of real-time marketing, my editor Thorin McGee at Target Marketing, is moderating his own panel on “Real-Time Marketing: Tools and Techniques to Own the Moment,” on Wednesday, 10 am – 10:45 am. Do I get extra credit for mentioning this one? Afterall, this blog post was a bit behind his deadline—though I’m hopeful it will be posted on time!

See you in Chicago!

Why and How to Let Prospects ‘Pick Your Brain’ Online

“Can I pick your brain on social selling, Jeff?” As a B-to-B marketer myself, I cannot afford to say no. Neither can you. Because customers may not want to do it themselves, as we suspect they do. In fact, prospects seeking free advice are often latent buyers or great referral sources. Here are two reasons to let prospects “pick your brain” and a way to give away knowledge that grows your business.

“Can I pick your brain on social selling, Jeff?” As a B-to-B marketer myself, I cannot afford to say no. Neither can you. Because customers may not want to do it themselves, as we suspect they do. In fact, prospects seeking free advice are often latent buyers or great referral sources.

Here are two reasons to let prospects “pick your brain” and a way to give away knowledge that grows your business.

Is It Stupid to Give Away Your Best Secrets?
“What kind of a business owner would be so stupid as to give away a company secret?” asks business owner Jerry X. Shea. He says prospective buyers constantly ask him how he does what he does.

“My answer … ‘that is why you are paying us to do it, because others can’t,'” says Shea.

“In 1992, I purchased a six-year-old screen printing/embroidery company,” says Shea. “We developed a way to print a four-color process on a T-shirt, and as a result I knew we would get the 10,000-shirt job as other shops in the area could not do it. Now why would I want to post on the Internet what it was we did get that end result?”

Because the Internet is an insurance policy on prospects finding what they need—with or without your help. If they want to do it themselves, they’ll find out how.

Businesses have always created and defended competitive advantages. Today, the Internet speeds-up the spread of information and exposes advantages faster. Bottom line: It’s smart to rely less on proprietary knowledge (to drive success).

The DIY Myth and the Damage It Inflicts
“Giving prospects my best advice for free will help them to do it without me.”

Not always. Here’s why believing this can hurt you.

Don’t confuse customers qualifying you with what you perceive as their purchase intent.

The act of seeking out knowledge does not always translate to customers’ wanting to do it on their own. Even in cases where it does “signal” a customer’s desire to do-it-themselves, what they want may change.

You want to be there when it changes.

Who will be there when customers change their minds? Who will they turn to when switching from, “Oh, heck, I can do that” to “Oh my, that didn’t work quite like I expected” or “Oh my. I had no idea it was that complicated.”

You should be there. You can also structure the (free) knowledge to foster prospects’ change in mindset.

Beware. Avoid the following:

  1. Misinterpreting customers intent to buy. Don’t presume customers want to do (themselves) what you want to be paid for. They may be qualifying you or the challenge they face.
  2. Over-valuing your knowledge. Avoid believing what you know is more valuable than what your knowledge DOES for clients.

Effective Content Helps You Filter Leads
Should every interaction have a financial return? Of course not. However, your time is valuable and in limited supply. Let content do the heavy lifting for you. Let blogs, white papers, video tutorials nurture prospects toward or away from buying.

Effective content marketing on YouTube, blogs or LinkedIn is all about using words to let customers:

  • get confident in their buying decision and/or ability to buy (at all)
  • self-select themselves as leads to be nurtured
  • change their mind and not do-it-themselves—returning to a trusted adviser (you)

Success is not determined by how much knowledge a business gives away. Your success is based on the material effect your advice and knowledge have on prospects.

We cannot afford to say no when customers ask for free advice. Because the act of asking does not always signal a desire to do-it-themselves. Plus, even if they are in “DIY mode” they may try, fail and come back to you—the clear, proven authority.

In my business I try to remind myself daily: Few people are willing to pay for my knowledge … but many are willing to pay for what my knowledge will DO for them. My knowledge isn’t my competitive weapon; my higher level of service is.

“The world does not pay men for that which they know. It pays them for what they do, or induce others to do.” —Napoleon Hill