Spokespeople Can Save Your Agency

by admin on January 22, 2018 · 2 comments


To defend an agency or corporation, you have to be honest. You have to be helpful. You have to be knowledgeable. You have to available. But beyond all of this, you have to talk, explain, defend and admit errors when warranted.

Your media representatives need a considerable amount of autonomy to be truly effective.


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state government agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.


I’m going to suggest that your spokesperson or media relations effort can make a significant difference in the way the media and larger public views your agency or company.

The problem is that most managers don’t understand the media relations process or keep their spokesperson on a very tight leash. That’s a recipe for failure.

The Care and Feeding of Spokespeople   

After thirty-five years of representing national and state government, I discovered that explaining my job is almost impossible.

Your chief spokesperson and those assigned that function greatly influence the tenor and tone of media coverage and public perception. To get to that point where spokespeople have influence, there has to be a considerable amount of trust between management, rank and file, and those speaking.

There has to be an equal amount of trust between the spokesperson and the media.

Look, your spokespeople will engage reporters, editors, media management, bloggers and everyone else who makes news decisions. There will be endless battles and you are not going to win them all, but to be successful, your media representatives need a considerable amount of autonomy.

Trust Me

I have either guided or personally done tens-of-thousands of media interviews with every news source from the nationals to local bloggers.  Trust me when I say that we spend thousands of hours explaining the nuances of the job as well as breaking events, most on an off-the-record basis.

You have to be honest. You have to be helpful. You have to be knowledgeable. You have to available. But beyond all of this, you have to talk, explain, defend and admit errors when warranted.

You have to aggressively and proactively market your agency through useful content (i.e., photos, audio, video, human interest stories) via social media and email.

You have to advocate for the legitimate rights of the media. If you want fairness, you have to give it.

Most of my thirty-five-year media relations career is encapsulated in my book, “Success With the Media.”

Screw Them

But few want that level of discussion. “The media are pigs,” they insist. “They have lower public approval ratings than car salespeople.”

“Look at Trump,” many say. “He knows how to handle them,” without realizing that there is an immense difference between what politicians can do and what we can do.

I have never figured out why we have immense community and media relations problems.

If we are so good, then why is much of the news about us so negative?

Better Media Relations

Your spokesperson and supportive staff will be your most important hires. You literally have no idea what they have to do each and every day to get along with reporters and influence stories.

Spokespeople do two things; they tell your story and they end negative news through denial. Their reputations for knowledge, honesty and fair play are their primary weapons.

Your spokesperson will spend hours explaining context and facts. He will meet with senior management, editorial boards, editors and media planners. She will have constructive influence if she’s playing her cards correctly.

You can’t micromanage this process. Spokespeople need the flexibility to call shots and to make decisions under really tough circumstances. Media decisions happen instantly and all news people seem to quickly move in the same direction; a pack mentality.  Media reps simply do not have the time for endless consultations with management.

But in my training sessions throughout the country, I encountered people who want to “control” the process. I have met senior management who want to be the primary spokespeople without realizing that there would have to be three of you to meet media demands on a 24-356 basis.

There needs to be a corps of very smart people who are willing to stand in between management and employees and the media and get something that constitutes a win for all sides.

Tired of the Negatives

I’m tired of seeing good agencies trivialized by the media and society in general.

But I’m also tired of seeing agencies who do not understand the media relations process and what it takes to succeed.  Once we start doing the right things and proactively market our people and agencies, things will get better.

Yes, we will walk through hell at times, and sometimes the negative media is deserved. But by looking at things in the long term and recognizing that we will lose battles, we will regain what is ours, a story of decent people doing a decent job.

But to get there, you have to cut your spokespeople lose and let them do their jobs. Over-caution is killing us.  Allow fairness and accessibility. Let the media tell our story with our guidance and input. If that philosophy bothers you, your not in the right job.

We are mostly good people doing honorable jobs. Why isn’t that story being told?


Contact us at leonardsipes@gmail.com

My book: “Amazon Hot New Release”- “A Must Have Book,” Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization available at Amazon


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Ed McDonough February 7, 2018 at 5:54 pm


I agree with this caveat: The best spokesperson can’t save a company/agency from itself. If United Airlines commits several boneheaded customer service actions in a short period of time, the best public tap-dancing in the world won’t save the brand reputation. I love the work that T.J. Smith and his team does for Baltimore City Police, but they will have a hard time restoring faith in that agency after this federal trial and the spike in crime post-Freddie Gray. There are some things even the best of us can’t fix. Hoped you are enjoying the Garrett County winter!

admin February 9, 2018 at 9:49 am

Hi Ed: Honored by your comment. Hope all is well.

Can’t disagree with your comments, there are times when the best spokesperson can’t fix unfolding events. When the event goes from story to issue, you are probably going to take a whooping.

That said, I went through my own fair share of issues. But in the long run, media were complimentary of our transparency (often with the disagreement of insiders). But that to work, the spokesperson has to have tenure. We both know that credibility and a sense of fairness goes a long way.

Now splitting our time between Florida and the mountains.

Best, Len.

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