How to Turn Your Execs into Expert Media Spokespeople

Banks and credit unions increasingly find they must have media champions out there playing both offense and defense. Making the most of every TV appearance, every podcast, every interview requires putting the right people in the right places and making sure they know what the interviewer wants.

In public relations, there can be an irony: Often the most knowledgeable spokespeople have the least confidence in media interviews, while those least knowledgeable are — you guessed it — the most confident. In my experience working with financial organizations’ executives and thought leaders, I’ve found that this is not only a fairly common problem, but also only one hurdle faced by banking institutions.

Among the challenges and questions you’ll need to examine as you conduct an internal public relations audit: Is your roster of spokespeople adequately diversified in subject matter? Are they equipped with the appropriate media training? And are their media accomplishments being properly showcased and fully leveraged?

Whether the goal is to upgrade your organization’s existing public relations program or build one from the ground up, the following steps will serve as a guide for overcoming each of those hurdles and positioning your media spokespeople for success.

Step 1: Identify Key Topics and Key Spokespeople in Your Bank

Priority topics will vary from institution to institution, and often market to market. However, here is a baseline list of topic categories you can use as a starting point: corporate profile, products and services, macroeconomic analysis, personal finance, innovation and fintech, and corporate social responsibility.

Then there’s the question: How many spokespeople do you need? This will depend on such factors as your organization’s size as well as the frequency and scope of its media opportunities. Rather than focusing too much on a specific number, put serious thought into: Are your topics essential and aligned to your needs? And are your spokespeople qualified, interested and available?

Also consider the extent to which your selected spokespeople vary in age, gender and background. Does the make-up of your roster reflect your customer base? These are factors to assess as you make decisions about what will most effectively and authentically serve your organization’s needs.

Read more: Why Bankers Need to Become PR Preppers

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Step 2: Conduct Personalized Media Training

A well-executed media training program will go a long way in helping your spokespeople identify the areas where they need improvement, hone their messaging, and become ready for primetime. Having led many such sessions, I’ve observed that there are a few specific tips I find myself often repeating and emphasizing to participants:

  • During video interviews, remember to smile! Including, and especially, when you’re not talking.
  • Become aware of your verbal quirks, like repeating “umm” or “like,” and work towards eliminating them.
  • Keep at least a handful of “pivot phrases” in your pocket in case the interview steers off topic. These include such phrases as: “what’s more important is …,” “the larger and broader issue is …,” and “what’s interesting to note is….”

Earlier I mentioned the frequent mismatch between confidence and qualification, which psychologists call the “Dunning-Kruger Effect.” Media training is highly beneficial for both the “more knowledgeable but less confident” and “less knowledgeable but more confident” types. It equips the first group with tools, tips and practices that boost confidence, while helping the second group to boost their self-awareness and tighten up their talking points.

Crucial to the success of any media training program is offering personalized feedback and guidance to each spokesperson that is tailored to their strengths, weaknesses and overall needs.

Read more: ‘One and Done’ Messaging Doesn’t Fix Public’s Banking Jitters

Step 3: Make Sure Your Spokesperson Knows the Audience

In advance of each media opportunity, make sure that the spokesperson is adequately briefed on the media outlet being engaged with and the demographic it serves.

Be relevant. Your spokesperson could easily be talking to someone representing anything from a Millennial-focused personal finance podcast to a traditional business news media outlet to banking or credit union industry trade publications. Terminology and depth appropriate to one audience may be too much for another audience and too simple for yet another. With that upcoming media interview, will your spokesperson be reaching consumers? Or other financial institutions?

By taking outlet details and audience make-up into account, preparation for any given media opportunity can be adapted accordingly.

Step 4: Button-Up Your Bank’s Messaging Around Potential Hot Topics

A general rule: The more contentious a topic, the more vital it is to have your messaging well-prepared beforehand.

Whatever your position, initiatives or plans are, key to effective messaging — and preventing future headaches — is both: 1. Proceeding with a course of action that is authentic to your organization’s values, and 2. Making sure your message is clear, consistent and cohesive.

For potential questions on any sensitive subject that your organization is not ready to fully and formally address, equipping your spokespeople with brief talking points and accompanying pivot phrases will empower them to successfully navigate a situation where an interviewer attempts to lean into that topic.

These same rules and tips apply for the issues that your organization is decidedly not taking a stance on or engaging in.

More broadly, having a crisis communications plan in place will tremendously help prepare and equip your organization for those times when you’re forced to navigate through challenging and undesired territory.

Read about public relations lessons from the 2023 industry turmoil:

Step 5: Showcase Your Bank’s Spokespeople and Leverage Their Media Accomplishments

Elevate the profile of your organization’s media spokespeople by:

  • Posting their bios and secured placements on your bank or credit union website.
  • Sharing secured coverage on social media, on both company and executive pages.
  • Distributing links or notices of media placements via email to employees, customers, partners and other stakeholders.
  • Creating a media reel — selections from successful engagements — which can be included in your organization’s media outreach.

Media coverage makes its most profound and positive impact when placements are promoted and distributed by an organization’s public relations, marketing, sales and executive teams across relevant and wide-reaching channels. This ensures that, from each secured placement, you get the most “bang for your buck.”

Strong Preparation of Spokespeople Pays ‘Compound Interest’

There’s a saying in public relations circles: “Media begets media.”

Once you start gaining media traction, that initial coverage serves as a catalyst for more coverage, which then leads to more coverage and so on.

Now, where have you seen a similar concept before? Compound interest, of course.

And the principle of compound interest applies throughout this whole process, all the way from Step 1 to Step 5. Do the upfront work, and the benefits are eventually exponential. Not only that, but the sooner you get started, the sooner and more profound those benefits will be.

About the author:

Jacob Streiter is vice president at Rosen Group, a full-service public relations firm headquartered in New York City.

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