Those unfamiliar with Public Relations might not realise that anytime they read the words ‘company spokesperson’ in a newspaper, what that really means is that the journalist was talking to someone like me, a PR practitioner.

There have been a few stories lately about people who believed that they were misrepresented in the press and have gone on to publish what they actually said to the journalist, or even publishing emails online. Am I wrong in thinking that this could happen to the company spokesperson aka the PR practitioner also?

While I think that a certain degree of trust exists between journalists and PR practitioners, as we begin to engage more with people outside of our circle I think we are more likely to be named. I’ve talked before about how the Internet is bringing a greater degree of transparency to many quarters and I think the company spokesperson could be another casualty of this.

The reason for this is simple. When someone reads the words ‘company spokesperson’, it seems innocent enough. If you substituted ‘company spokesperson’ for ‘PR practitioner’ though, it suddenly feels as though the company was trying to hide something.

The fact that quotes in the press are often taken from press releases is often unsettling for people also, but in reality do you think that a company representative said the exact same thing to numerous publications?

I think that this is going to be a harsh pill for some people to take, but in the long term I think it could be beneficial to the overall perception of the PR industry as people will gain a better understanding of what it is exactly that we do.

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4 Responses to “Is the company spokesperson facing extinction?”  

  1. 1 Stephen Davies

    What about if it was the ‘communications director’ who was quoted. Although still a PR practitioner, would that sound better in the press?

    If the company has an in-house PR team then why can’t the spokesperson be in the PR department? After all, that’s their job and they probably know more about the situation than anyone else in the company.

    Personally, I don’t think the general public believe companies using PR (either in-house or agency) to communicate to outside publics are trying to hide something. That would be similar to saying people using lawyers to represent them in the courts are trying to hide something. It’s just professional representation.

  2. 2 Piaras

    I don’t think that their spokesperson couldn’t be a PR representative, it’s just that I don’t think the general public knows that it is.

    I’m just talking in general terms here because I see ‘a company spokesperson said…’ and it’s me they’re talking about. I just find it a little funny. I don’t think that it should read ‘Piaras Kelly said…’, but I think the fact that if it read ‘the company’s PR representative said’ that it would come across more as professional representation.

    It’s a tough one to call really and I’m just throwing it out there as a general discussion piece. In my opinion some people are slightly wary when they know that a PR representative is involved, but that’s only because they don’t know what we do.

  3. 3 Stephen Davies

    True, for a profession that looks after and enhances reputation, it has a hard time doing its own any justice. The media doesn’t help – everything that a company, government, celebrity etc does wrong it’s labeled a “PR gaff” or “PR blunder”. Truth is, it probably wouldn’t have happened if smart PR was involved.

    I know what you mean though. If you’re writing a release and you’re putting a quote in for a director – even though it’s approved by him, there’s still an element of, shall we say, “not the full truth” involved.

  4. 4 Tom

    A lot of it is down to trust. A) If a ‘company spokesperson’ suddenly turns out to be from a PR agency trained in dealing with media queries, the answer seems less genuine. While it’s technically true that we’re a company spokesperson, we don’t work directly for them, and we don’t have the same relationship with the company’s customers.

    The second point is that PR as a profession is not held in the highest regard. Partially because of the ‘PR gaff’ culture, but I don’t think PR has helped itself either. As an industry, we’re seen as being purely defensive, helping companies that have done something wrong cover themselves. I don’t think PR highlights the positive work we do, because, if we did, it would take away the gloss from our clients!

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