The job of corporate spokesperson can be likened to facing a firing squad–so why do it? Steven Schlein gives insight into the personality needed to take hits day in and day out and how this job has just gotten tougher.
Think of Sarah Huckabee Sanders holding her daily brief for the White House press corps and you might begin to see the resemblance. Include Jason Maloni, Paul Manafort’s spokesperson who was subpoenaed by Robert Mueller, and other representatives who are being sued for defamation for simply issuing denials in defense of their clients, and the picture is even clearer.
Not to mention, there are a couple dozen Hollywood publicists that currently answer a barrage of calls every day about the sexual misdeeds of their celebrity clients—and that’s just the high-profile stuff.
On a daily basis, a host of representatives face a media firing squad, including congressional press secretaries, corporate communicators and media professionals working for NFL franchises, to name a few. While they may not always be confronting a hostile media face-to-face at a press briefing, the flow of incoming calls and emails in the middle of a controversy can be intense.
So, why do they do it?
Usually, they are intellectually stimulated by some combination of the intersection of policy, communications, sports, business, entertainment and politics. They also have a complicated set of personality traits: a large ego tempered with a dose of masochism.
Most spokesmen and spokeswomen are as mentally tough as an NFL cornerback, players notorious for forgetting about the last play that burned them for a touchdown. Each play starts a new game for cornerbacks and spokespeople, alike. They put their mistakes and shortcomings behind them and focus on getting ready for the next encounter.
A good spokesperson doesn’t prioritize being liked over doing the jobs.
It would be great if, after every briefing or interview, the reporters came away liking you, but a spokesperson knows being likeable isn’t the job. Defending or promoting an argument that benefits the principal or client is what he or she lives for, although sometimes the principal or client doesn’t see it that way (Trump’s treatment of Sean Spicer is common, not the exception).
How the job has changed
It’s only gotten harder to be a spokesperson today.
The modern media landscape and rise of social channels has cranked up the intensity and confrontation is ubiquitous. The pace of publication is even more remarkable, with a spokesperson providing quotes that appear online twenty minutes later.
The media environment is also tougher. The growing number of online publications, blogs and cable news channels has increased the competitive environment while the segmentation into decidedly left-wing and right-wing publications has created a built-in attack machine.
No matter who you work for, there’s a segment of the media that will pounce on your every word and declare your efforts “a failure”, “bungled” or “lacking transparency.” Added to that is an entire class of pundits, always anxious to go on cable television and declare every corporate or celebrity scandal to be “mishandled.”
So, who wants to be a spokesperson? Who wants to be on the front lines explaining product defects, drug test failures, stock price declines and plant explosions? Who wants to work for controversial figures?
If you have a thick skin, take pride in the faith entrusted in you to represent your organization, and like to see your name in the paper, it’s a great job.