Posts about Human Interest

7 Considerations To Choose the Right Corporate Spokesperson

The choice of corporate spokesperson should never be taken lightly.  Never.  Having the wrong person representing you can damage your brand in the best case scenario.  In the worse-case scenario, it could destroy your brand.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

The person or persons chosen need to be creditable, knowledgeable, well-spoken, but above all empathetic and likeable. There have been a few tragic situations over the last few years when brands seem to have forgotten this fundamental rule.

Over the course of many years in Public Relations and Crisis Communications I have been both a corporate spokesperson and coached others.  It is not an easy task. When dealing with death, there are just no words that can make anyone feel better. That is why it is so critical that you have someone who can give information and facts and most importantly have real and genuine empathy. You can’t fake empathy. You can’t fake the terrible feeling that you have knowing that a human-being has died. At this point the spokesperson must do his or her best to share information that will help make some sense of the tragedy without inflaming victims and loves-ones who are experiencing complete and utter loss, disbelief and anger.

A few months ago I listened as one corporate spokesperson spoke on a very, very tragic situation here in Canada. I did not envy him or anyone who had attempted to coach him. This level of tragedy was unknown in our country and facing those left behind was not going to be easy. Suffice it to say, the conversation did not go well. The words chosen and even the tone used, were wrong. I listened in disbelief. Only days later I listened to a follow-up interview. My only words to describe what I heard was:  why isn’t someone saving him from himself? Again the words chosen would only inflame the victims’ families.  

Brands can mitigate this by having the right person in place.  I offer the following advice to brands to avoid having the wrong spokesperson:

1.  Know the abilities of your employees, including your executives.  Choose a spokesperson based on knowledge and the ability to be empathetic and likeable, not based on position.  While it is true that PR people will “typically” recommend that the most senior person speak out to “take responsibility” in very serious circumstances, avoid this if your most senior person does not come across as caring, patient, and likeable.  

2.  Have a regular cadence of training for your spokespersons.  Don’t wait for a tragedy.  Have mock interviews with cameras, people playing probing and tough reporters. Be sure to watch and critique the interviews with the spokespersons.  

3.  Get 3rd party impressions of the spokespersons.  Play on-camera interviews with the audio turned off.  Ask what people felt about the spokesperson.  Did they feel that he or she was telling the truth or hiding something?  Did the person look angry, sincere, or arrogant?  You need to know this before an issue emerges.  

4.  If necessary, retrain after the the feedback.  If there is no improvement, replace the spokesperson.

5.  If the unthinkable happens and the spokesperson is called into duty, respond quickly.  The longer you wait, the more inflamed people will be.   Review and assess the person’s experience.  Be honest and really critique the situation.  This is the time that you need everyone doing the right thing for the victims and their families.  

6.  Change spokespersons if necessary. Do it and do it swiftly.  

7.  This one is most important:  Be human.  You are dealing with a tragedy.  Remember that.  You are not the victim. 

Tragedies are never easy.  The role of the spokesperson is do the best job to provide the facts and not inflame people.   

(Note:  a version of this same blog appeared previously in my old blog.)



You Are Rude, Don’t Blame Your Job

In this always-on fast-paced world we are all super connected to our technology.  We want to be on top of the latest email, tweet or Facbook post.  We want to appear cool and suave by responding quickly with some witty retort.  We want to feel important. But have you ever wondered how you really appear to others?  Have you ever thought that you might come off as selfish and self-important?  You should!  Are you innately rude?  You just might be.

Before going any further I have a confession to make: I “was” one of those people who had her phone physically connected to her body.  I even slept with the darn thing.  Every buzz or vibration was checked quicker than a cowboy could pull his six-shooter from his holster.  I prided myself in how quickly I got back to people regardless of the day of the week or the time of day.  When meeting with people I sometimes was only half there.  I was focused on that darn phone. I didn’t stop “being on” even when dinning with family or being invited to dinner parties.  Christmas get togethers also didn’t get my full attention.  I was “always” on.


Image compliments of

Then one day it struck me that I was being really rude.  I mean really rude.  I wasn’t raised that way and I like to think that normally my manners are pretty good.  It is actually important to me.  So, how do I justify this behaviour?  Well, I take full responsibility and admit to liking the feeling of “feeling important.”  Really though, I wasn’t important.  Instead, I taught people that it was o.k. to infringe on my personal time and that I was at their beck and call 24/7.  I taught people that it was acceptable to take advantage of me.  This wasn’t fair to my family, my friends or even to me.

I wish my epiphany had resulted in my own self-awareness, but I can’t claim that.  Two things happened in one day that hit me like a hammer.  Two separate meetings taught me important lessons.

The first meeting was with a Vice-President that I reported to at the time.  When meeting with him you couldn’t help but feel like the center of attention.  After all, he stopped what he was doing.  He physically got up from his desk and sat at the meeting table with you in his office.  I am sure that he did this intentionally.  First and foremost he was moving away from any distractions on his desk.  Secondly he was moving away from the telephone on his desk.  His attention was 100% focused on you, the person he was meeting with, not anything else.  Even when his mobile rang, he ignored it.  The first time it happened I said it was ok for him to answer.  His response:  “No, it is not.  I am meeting with you.  You scheduled this time to meet with me and I agreed.  This is your time.  If there is a crisis or an emergency, someone will come to get me.”  I always left his meetings feeling respected and full of purpose.  Sure, we didn’t always agree on everything, but nonetheless I felt respected.

The second meeting was with another member of the executive team.  In this case we were meeting about an important strategic issue that needed a timely solution.  During the meeting the executive member answered no less than four calls, made three unrelated calls, accepted non emergency interruptions from colleagues and checked Facebook – which he said he “had to do.” Rather than feel respected I was frustrated when I left the meeting.  We had accomplished nothing.  He asked me to come back a couple of hours later.  I had to reschedule my afternoon to accommodate.  When I returned the next time, it was pretty much the same scenario.  Another hour passed and we accomplished nothing again.  I was asked to return later yet again.  It was the same thing.  In the end it took six hours of meetings to accomplish what could have been accomplished in 45 minutes.  It was not only a colossal waste of time, but it was indicative of how that individual thought of people.  It became very clear, very quickly that this was his M.O.  He did this to everyone.  

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Image compliments of

So this was my epiphany.  I experienced what it is like to be treated respectfully.  I experienced what is like to be treated without respect.  One person valued both me and my time.  One person did not.

The real question however is whether or not you are respecting your colleagues, family and friends?  What about yourself?

Women, Persons Under the Law

In honour of this day in 1929 when women became persons under the law in Canada, I am reposting this blog that was shared on old blog Being Social in June of this year.

Celebrating women and our accomplishments is one of things we think about when we think of International Women’s Day or during International Women’s Week.  Or, at least I certainly do.  This year however, I have thought about how difficult things remain for women in many parts of the world.

Photo courtesy of:

Photo courtesy of:

It really wasn’t that long ago that women became “persons under the law” in Canada.  In fact, it was less than 100 years.  In 1927 Emily Murphy and four other Canadian women asked the Supreme Court of Canada if the word “persons” in the British North America Act of 1867, included women.  It answered “NO” in 1928.  A year later, with the help of our then Prime Minister, MacKenzie King, the Famous Five appealed to the Privy Council in England.  In 1929, they announced that “…yes, women are persons…”.  Can you imagine?   Less than 100 years ago in Canada I would not have been considered a person, by law!  I can’t imagine that.

The rights of women advanced a snail’s pace faster in the United States with the federal woman suffrage amendment, originally written by Susan B. Anthony and introduced in Congress in 1878,being passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1919. It was then sent to the states for ratification. Again, only slightly better than Canada.

Flash forward to 2013 and unfortunately we see some shocking statistics and behavior.  In my province alone, pay equity is “still” a voluntary initiative.  Yes, you read correctly.  Paying women 80 cents for every dollar that a man is paid is acceptable.  And, yes this is 2013.  So, a woman can have the same education and experience, perhaps even more and doing the same job as the man in the next office, but she is paid less.  Twenty percent less.  And, yes there are cries to have more educated and qualified people working in our province.  While our lifestyle is nice here, there are a couple of provinces adjacent to us that offer the same quality of life.  How do they treat women in those provinces?

While I am not pleased that women are paid less in New Brunswick and our government chooses to think it is acceptable, there are far more appalling behaviours occurring around the world.  Late last year Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl wanting to be educated was shot in the head only because she was a girl and she wanted an education.  Amazingly, she survived and while it will be a very, very long road to some form of recovery, she wants to continue to learn and be educated.

In December we were all outraged by the brutal rape of a 23-year woman on a New Delhi bus.  The story was gut-wrenching.  Despite wanting to live and fighting to live, the injuries were just too serious. And while India was outraged by the incident, just four weeks later another woman travelling by bus to her village was taken to a building where she was raped by seven men.   Just four weeks later!

There are many stories such as these. They do make me stop and think about being a person under the law. I am a person under the law in my country, but not in all.  In my own country and province, according to government, it is acceptable that I would be paid less than my male counterpart if my employer chose to do so.  Even when we have laws of protection, they may or may not be enforced. 

Whether or not you are a woman or a man, what is your take on this?  And, does it even matter to you that International Women’s Week starts on Friday?