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Using Surrogates to Enhance Your Organization’s Credibility

Phillip Davidson has worked in communications/PR for over 17 years and still loves it.

Surrogates Can Be Helpful

Deploying surrogates to champion your organization and/or carry your message is an excellent tactic to bolster your organization's credibility in good times and bad. Association with third-parties who are considered authorities in your industry can strengthen your reputation, sometimes by mere association. Usually, though, you want to engage those who will champion your organization in the press, which can be far more valuable than paid spokespeople. Surrogates can also help you convey positive messages on your behalf, which can be indispensable during times of crisis.

Here are a few things to consider when planning to use surrogates in your public relations efforts.

Credibility and Name Recognition

You will get the most bang for your buck if you recruit those with the most credibility and name recognition in your industry and/or those widely recognized as authorities in their own industries who are not likely to be aligned with your organization. If your surrogate has a strong personal tie to your leadership—for example, he or she was your CEO’s college roommate, then that connection may create a perception of bias and weaken the strength of their endorsement of the brand. Certain factors can overcome this, however, such as if the surrogate’s credibility is unassailable, or if the surrogate is known for their honesty and will both support you, but also publicly disagree with you.

Alignment With Your Brand

You would do well to select those who can convey the image you want your organization to project. If you want your organization to convey an image of diversity to the public, make sure that you select a diverse group of surrogates. If your organization’s brand is strongly whimsical or artistic, deploy representatives who are colorful, vibrant, and full of personality.

On the other hand, if your brand is family-oriented and a possible surrogate is scandal-prone, it’s best to avoid that candidate. Using that candidate will create a disconnect between the public and the message being conveyed. Make sure that those you choose to represent your brand are a reflection of your organization’s values before putting them out there to represent your brand.

Preparation

Properly prep your surrogates. Make sure they have the most recent messaging and talking points, especially when you are amid a quickly unfolding crisis. The last thing you want is a credible and well-intentioned figure, reiterating information that you may already have retracted, or using a message frame that the public has already rejected.

Your surrogates should be able to make your talking points their own without sounding coached. Make sure there is a natural reason for them to be delivering your message, so it does not seem like naked advertising. For example, if they will appear on a show about new IT developments, ensure they can speak about that topic, so they can work your message into the interview naturally. Further, no matter how credible your surrogates are in your industry, make sure that they are equal to the medium in which you ask them to appear. Do not put someone who is camera shy in front of a live camera to convey your message.

Strategic Deployment

It's important to be thoughtful about the most effective uses for your surrogates. Would their statements be more effective on a business news program or a LinkedIn blog? Making that determination requires you to first perform a careful analysis of the media channels to which your target audiences pay attention. Then you must select the individual who can represent you best on that channel/those channels.

Do not overuse surrogates. Doing so weakens their effectiveness in conveying your message in the eyes of the media and the public. You also run the risk of the press making the story about them rather than your brand. Integrate surrogates strategically into your long-term public relations plan as well as thoughtfully incorporate them into any crisis response management plan for maximum effect.

Long-Term Relationship Building

Your surrogates should be individuals you have an existing relationship with and/or are those with whom you are looking to build a deeper one. That said, figure out ways to support their interests. If your relationship is merely one-sided—the only time you see the surrogate is to shove talking points at them—then be prepared for diminishing enthusiasm and a rapidly declining relationship.

Instead, serve as a surrogate for their organization, refer them business, and connect them with those in your network who can help further their interests. The more mutually beneficial your relationship is, the more energy and enthusiasm you can expect your surrogates to pour into delivering your message.

Have you used surrogates? What strategies and tactics have you found most useful and effective when using surrogates? Share in the comments below.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Phillip Davidson

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