No media office will ever be effective unless it is fully integrated into the top echelons of an organization, has the support of the boss and the staff, and has institutionalized procedures for getting out the news that are respected — not tampered with — by senior management. A spokesperson cannot alone make an effective communications operation. It must come from the top: from the top government official.
A spokesperson also cannot serve properly unless he or she knows the background of issues and the context in which decisions are made. Simply designating someone to be the communicator does not do the trick. If the spokesperson cannot give credible answers, reporters have to go elsewhere for information, and that information may be incorrect.
Emerging democracies sometimes go through several stages before having effective, transparent press operations. These include:
• Having no press officer at all.
• Assigning the duties of communication to a staffer who has many other tasks. Typical is adding the role of press secretary or spokesman to an individual who may also be in charge of research or policy, or even serves as the chief of staff. When this happens, communications usually does not occur and is the last role to which the official pays any attention.
• Giving an employee the full-time assignment of spokesperson or information officer but giving him or her little authority. Sometimes the spokesperson has little or no access to the minister for whom he or she is supposed to serve as communicator. The result: a job with no authority and ineffective communications.
• Having a press secretary who is overloaded with too many media tasks — writing press releases, arranging press conferences, monitoring the news — and no staff. The press secretary becomes ineffective and focuses only in crisis mode and not as someone who can proactively communicate the organization’s plans.
• Having scattered press operations within an organization. In the foreign ministry of a coalition government, one office spoke for the minister, another for the ministry, and another did news monitoring and research.
• Getting to the optimum: an integrated, quickly responding press office using all communications platforms.