Deploying surrogates to champion your organization and / or carry your message is a good 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 contemplate when considering the use of surrogates:
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 with significant credibility 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 strengthen of your surrogate’s endorsement. Certain factors can overcome this however, such as if the surrogate’s credibility is unassailable, or if the surrogate is known for their candor and will both support you, but also publicly disagree with you.
You would do well to select those who can convey the image you want your organization to project. If you want your organization to reflect diversity, make sure that your select a diverse group of surrogates. If your organization’s brand is strongly whimsical or artistic, deploy surrogates who\ are colorful, vibrant, and full of personality.
Properly prep your surrogates. Make sure they have the most recent message and talking points, especially when you are amid a quickly in folding crisis. The last thing you want is a well-intentioned and credible 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 your organization’s surrogate 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.
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 as part of a long-term marketing communications plan as well as thoughtfully incorporate them into any crisis response management plan.
Your surrogates should be individuals you have an existing relationship with and / or are looking to build a deeper one with industry influencers. 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. Serve as a surrogate for their organization, refer them business, 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 pour into delivering your message.
After spending nearly a decade and a half doing communications work, I now work in government relations. However, I still dabble in communications work, as an active freelancer. I'm also a husband and proud father of two boys.