What I’ve Learned As A Spokesperson: Julia Stewart

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in an ongoing series of readers sharing what they’ve learned as media spokespersons. Click here to learn more about how to submit your own piece for the “What I’ve Learned as a Media Spokesperson” series. Today’s post comes from Julia Stewart, the owner of Clarity Communications LLC.

As a crisis communications consultant turned fresh produce industry spokesperson turned PR counselor and trainer, I now have the chance to pass on some of the lessons I’ve learned throughout my career to my clients. Here are just four of the nuggets I can offer from my own experience, to join the advice already offered here by John Fitzpatrick, Philip Connolly, Starr Million Baker and Justin Cole:

1. Anyone can find herself in the bull’s eye. When I left that crisis management firm for the world of fresh fruit industry associations, I remember thinking, “Great! Everyone loves fruit; this will be all good news.” I quickly learned that bad news could put even “white hat” businesses in the media bull’s eye. I spent a good portion of the next 15 years working one issue after another, including foodborne illness, traceability, pesticide residues and product dumping. We were in the press time and again, mainstream and/or trade. (Fortunately, there were lots of good news stories, too!)

PR pro Julia Stewart

2. Preparation starts early and never ends. Effective spokespersons really know our businesses, and we practice our interview skills religiously. The required investment of time and attention can’t be short changed. I recently completed a third round of media training with a client, and we’re still finding messaging and delivery items to work on. Fortunately, we took time up front to define our key messages so that we can hit them early and often.

3. Sincerity is a necessity. Being a spokesperson can’t just be a day job, or we forfeit our credibility as spokespersons. During my tours as produce spokesperson, I considered it my mission to defend growers against misperceptions being propagated through the media. I couldn’t learn enough about our work, looking for those original nuggets to share with reporters. That sincerity earned me a spot as a regular contact in many reporters’ address books. And that wasn’t lost on my bosses or our volunteer leaders.

4. Everything is connected. Forget six degrees of separation; many business issues are directly connected if not one or two steps off from each other. What spokespersons say on one topic or issue has to ring true on others too, or here again we lose our credibility. As strategic counselors, it’s our responsibility to point out inconsistencies in policies and positions and to advocate for greater equilibrium.

Seasoned spokespersons understand that working with the media offers both opportunity and challenge. Being purposeful, preparing, positioning offensively, watching our prose and taking basic precautions – the five Ps I now teach my clients – are the keys to making the most of any media situation.

Julia Stewart now brings her heat-tested PR skills to the fruit and vegetable industry as owner of Clarity Communications LLC, based outside of Washington, D.C. Email her at jstewart@prclarity.com, and follow her on Twitter at @JuliaStewartPR.

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