The Care and Feeding of Spokespeople-Survival Skills

by admin on July 26, 2017


You have to understand your spokespeople and what they go through to get good media results.

Success With the Media

I wrote, “Success With the Media, Everything You Need to Survive Reporters and Your Organization” (available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon at because I believe that organizations need to look inward to get better media results.

I use contents from the book for this article.

Some believe that we should not talk to reporters. I maintain that not talking leaves you without influence; you are committing yourself to a negative story. The trick is to know how to talk to the media.

This is the third and final in a series of articles on, “The Care and Feeding of Spokespeople.”


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of supervising award-winning media relations, radio and television; over fifty national and regional awards. Post-Master’s Certificate of Advanced Study, Johns Hopkins University.

Personal Survival Skills

There is a point in many of our careers when the job seems impossible. This occupation is so complex and requires so many skills, especially as they relate to understanding disparate human psyches, that you find yourself wondering about your own sanity. There are few people who understand media relations, especially as it pertains to cumbersome bureaucracies.

A lifetime ago when I was a cadet for the Maryland State Police, I was riding with a trooper on patrol when we were dispatched to a very serious automobile accident. It was not only my first fatal accident; it was also my first decapitation.

A husband and wife were riding in his off-duty taxicab after drinking at a bar and were attempting to cross a busy four-lane highway when they were hit broadside by a fast moving tractor-trailer. The impact caused the taxicab to flip over endlessly and land in a grove of trees. When we arrived at this crumpled mass of steel, we could see that the driver, although badly injured, was still breathing. The trooper and I were using crowbars to try to tear away obstructions so we could get to the driver and try to save his life.

As we were moving into the vehicle, the trooper admonished me not to look down. Immediately beneath me was the driver’s deceased wife without her head.

Now, it is impossible to tell a nineteen-year-old not to look at something. I glanced below me, saw the woman, noticed that her head was not attached to her body, and immediately began to get sick. The trooper yelled at me. “I told you not look! Leonard, you cannot get sick! Now pull it together and help me!”

Somehow I was able to comply with his demand, and I assisted him in reaching the badly injured driver. It was our plan to stabilize him and wait for medical personnel with the proper equipment to extract him without doing any further damage. We tried our best to save him, but he died before we could get him out of the car.

Although I understood that law enforcement required seeing and experiencing things that most people would shy away from, I was nevertheless troubled by the experience. I tried to talk it over with friends and family only to discover that they had little experience in these matters.

I found that I could not talk to them, and they had little to offer me. I also found that the only people who truly understood my situation were my fellow police officers. Depending solely upon your working peers for advice and counsel has its good and bad points. I was able to find people who instinctively understood my dilemma, and that was very comforting. But at the same time, I felt isolated from other people.

I discovered that my profession was so unique that few outside of law enforcement were willing to understand it. Criminology is filled with articles describing this dilemma and the subculture it induces among police officers. These articles also described the negatives that are associated with this isolation.

As strange as it may seem, I see many similarities between my first job as a police officer and my public affairs career. I have found that very few people understand the job of media relations. I take joy in my gatherings with fellow public affairs professionals so I can share both the thrill and the pain of the job.

Our jobs are so mysterious to outsiders that they have little empathy for what actually occurs. When we try to explain it to others, we realize that it is almost impossible to define. Unfortunately, this (like police work) produces a good deal of isolation. For a job that requires a very good sense of self and the mental toughness to succeed, there are very few people or resources that offer assistance.

Many years ago I discovered that books or courses that addressed the reality of our jobs did not exist, thus the primary reason for this publication. After spending years conversing with other public affairs officers, I would like to offer some collective advice that will help spokespeople stay in top physical and mental form. For example, I play tennis frequently because it gives me a complete break from my day-to-day realities. I do not see tennis as a hobby. I see it as being necessary to my psychological well being. While I consider myself a devoted father who deeply loves and takes time for his children, I will not allow myself to miss my two to three tennis outings each week. Some of this collective wisdom is included in the chart that follows.

For example, I play tennis frequently because it gives me a complete break from my day-to-day realities. I do not see tennis as a hobby. I see it as being necessary to my psychological well being. While I consider myself a devoted father who deeply loves and takes time for his children, I will not allow myself to miss my two to three tennis outings each week. Some of this collective wisdom is included in the chart that follows.

Staying in Top Physical and Mental Form: A Diet for Public Affairs Officers:

  • Get plenty of sleep. There are times when sleep is your best defense against the anxieties of the day.
  • Exercise! You don’t need to run a marathon, but even light exercise such as walking will do wonders to clear your head.
  • Understand that your psychological well being will be immensely taxed. Having the ability to juggle endless priorities that few seem to understand and appreciate will take its toll. Because of this, there will be many times that you must put your own well being first.
  • Eat nutritious meals. You are only as good as what you put into your body.
  • Go easy on the alcohol. Better yet, leave it alone.
  • Try your best to explain your job to your spouse. Many public affairs professionals complain that explaining the intricacies of their job is difficult to do, so they don’t, but you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to be more forthcoming.
  • Understand that many people within your organization have little idea about the realities of public affairs work, but most of these people operate without malicious intent. They simply do not understand the realities. Try to be kind.
  • Learn to forgive and leave all grudges behind. Focus solely on your future and not on the past. Grudges will eat you alive if you allow them to.
  • The best way to deal with disagreeable people in the media and within your organization is through politeness and civility.
  • Learn the art of meditation. Practice it frequently.
  • Public affairs professionals find themselves out of a job for all the wrong reasons. The best public information officers in the world could suddenly find themselves unemployed due to a lack of trust from senior executives who know little or nothing about the profession. It happens. Life is too short to dwell endlessly on the negatives.
  • Pat yourself on the back frequently. Be your own best friend.
  • Realize that mistakes come with the job. Do not internalize mishaps. You are paid to make judgment calls. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.

Be aware of “PIO-itus.” There are public affairs officers who take the psychological stresses of the job badly and convince themselves that they are God’s gift to the organization. This is the first sign of burnout. This is when public affairs officers become dangerous to themselves and the organization. This job requires a good degree of humility, and when you have convinced yourself that you can do no wrong is when you are the most dangerous. If you find yourself in this position, you need to take a vacation and get away from the job.

In the final analysis, most of us like our jobs. You find that public relations work allows you to live life to its fullest. While you’re not a policymaker, you find that the job allows you to have significant input into important matters.

For most of us, the ability to “sit at the table” and to be taken seriously as experts is sufficient reward. Many of you enjoy the challenges and take pride in your successes. Public affairs is your chosen profession; this is where you want to be. We just need to do a better job taking care of ourselves.

Speaking of our well being, many spokespeople begin to look at their employers with something less than affection after being hired. The disagreement involves the job that was offered and the realities of your new position. Can’t we all just get along?

Next Up


Success With the Media

For more information on good organizational and media relations, see “Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization,” available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon at  Your reviews are appreciated.

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