PR pros: here are 4 types of difficult spokespeople, and how to make them better

I wish I could just do this interview myself.”

Be honest: how many times have you uttered those words as a spokesperson does pretty much everything *except* what they’re supposed to?

Some executives are the LeBron James of media interviews (sorry, Raptors fans!). They were born to do it, and they work hard to train. They know the task at hand, do the prep, effortlessly handle tough questions, then smile when it’s done and ask for feedback. Nothing but net.

Others, not so much. Here are four types of spokespeople who can be challenging to manage (and do damage as a result) as well as a few tips on how to get them into game shape and get the sort of media coverage you’re after.

The Cowboy or Cowgirl

You certainly can’t accuse the Cowboy/Cowgirl of being checked out. They’re the ones eager for the next media interview, and challenging you about why they can’t get the kind of coverage Ms. Competitor is getting. When they do get an interview, they’re ready to go. Like, right now. Prep? It’s for suckers. Media are easy.  They’ve *GOT* this. Sometimes, they do. But just as often, their interviews go into the weeds or worse, into risky and inaccurate territory.

It can be hard to tamp down that kind of overconfidence. One way to help moderate some of the exuberance is to give positive critique: take the best of what they did before, remind them of it, and urge them to go for a repeat win. Alternatively, you can point to someone else (a competitor, someone they look up to), highlight what they did or didn’t do well, and then show them how to replicate the success or avoid the disaster. It’s all about showing what they’re good at already, and how to make it great. Gently stressing the importance of prep and training is also very helpful here.

The Avoider

On paper, Avoiders are just fine with media interviews. Until an opportunity for one comes up, that is. Suddenly a mix of travel, sales calls, vacation, dying phone batteries and natural disasters comes up, and they just can’t make this one work. But maybe next time? They always know someone else who is better suited to do it in their place, or worse, they may decide that postponing is a better strategy because, well, it just is.

Simply put, they don’t like doing interviews but won’t admit it.

Dealing with them is all about advance prep work. Identify well in advance (and ideally in the presence of their boss) the key media, audiences and topics that they – and only they – will speak to, because they’re the only ones qualified to do it. Show where other interviews can be parceled off to others, and where they can’t. Warn them when a media interview could be impending – it’s difficult to outright decline a hypothetical. Then, work with someone else to confirm their calendar and book it. Just don’t position anything a question along the way!

The Technician

A Technician can be an Avoider or a Cowgirl, but what sets them apart is that they can never go deep enough into the weeds. Technicians  complain that the reporter they spoke to doesn’t “get it,” or that he or she had to do too much explaining. They feast on jargon. They may diligently prep, show enthusiasm for the opportunity, and profess an understanding for what must be done. But as soon as the interview starts, they throw it all away and bury the reporter in overwrought, lengthy answers riddled with arcane language and acronyms.

To win here, play to their ego. Explain at the outset that the reporter needs their help and guidance, and work on those snappy quotes or talking points that get it done quickly. Or, consider setting up an on background interview when they and your spokesperson have time. Get the inevitable technical sermon out of their system ahead of time, so that they when the reporter is on deadline, things go much more smoothly.

The Panicker

When the Panicker gets an interview request, they usually start with 50 or so questions, after which they book several prep meetings and request multi-volume briefing binders. They’re the ones who often try to memorize messages like a movie script and curse themselves for missing even a single word. And no matter how they performed, they *know* they did a bad job answering that one question. They will also hate the resulting article, even when everyone else is happy.

Let’s face it. You never want a Panicker facing a tough interview. So, in the same way someone scared of flying might conquer their fear by getting on a short flight, start them easy. Again, look for an information interview or meet-and-greet to start, or an opportunity that’s more transactional. And although it requires a commitment, using prep time to run mock interviews can also help a great deal. Panickers often possess expert-level knowledge and have a deep concern for accuracy. That makes them excellent spokespeople, provided you can get them past their initial fears.

Are there other types I’ve missed? Have any advice of your own for how to handle the non-gifted spokesperson? Let’s hear them!