Choose your spokespeople carefully. Very carefully. You know that famous quote from Warren Buffett: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you will do things differently.” There are countless ways to think about how that advice applies to those of us in the communications business.
One is in how we choose our spokespeople. Why is it auto-pilot for people to use their executive director as the go-to issue, no matter who the audience is? I can think of countless instances where it is best for a group working on an issue should do their work behind the scenes. The face of the campaign needs to be someone entirely different from them for them to succeed.
Why? Because we identify with people who are like us. We decide whether to favor one thing, or oppose another, based on social cues we get from members of our own community. As much as we hate to admit it, we like people more when we perceive them to be similar to us (or even, who we aspire to be) – in background, in values, even in fashion. Why do you think the “I’m a Mormon” campaign had images of people of all colors and ages? To make us feel comfortable with the Mormons because one of those pictures contained someone of the same ethnicity or age as us.
Match your spokespeople to your audience. Who do they trust? When Resource Media worked on an environmental campaign to protect the Rocky Mountain Front from drilling during George W. Bush’s presidency, none of our designated spokespeople were from traditional environmental groups. We reached out to the Republican hook and bullet crowd. These folks were the faces of the campaign and they were genuine: this was their beloved hunting and fishing grounds under threat. President Bush listened to his red state boys, not environmental groups. We never would have won that fight had a Montana environmental group been the lead messenger.
Go win your fight, and do with it “good people.”