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Choosing the Company Spokesperson Part 8

Your Spokesperson Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect

As I’ve mentioned already, your spokesperson does not have to be perfect—even if they are the Big Boss. Don’t ignore their personality or obvious physical traits. Here’s some examples of less-than-perfect bosses who were perfect spokespeople.

Even if the boss is not physically ideal or charmingly smooth they can be memorable. Memorable in the right way is good. Try turning whatever’s less than perfect (or even not directly applicable to the business message) into a positive. Use the boss not just to solve problems but to emphasize a primary marketing point—often an intangible value that requires consumer trust. If the boss can embody the spirit of the company, the message will find a powerful reception.

In the 1980s, Lee Iacocca was known as a smart and tough businessman. He had risen through the ranks of Ford Motor Company first as an engineer, then in sales, product development and finally reaching president…where he was fired after a falling out with Henry Ford II. Iacocca then joined Chrysler as CEO at a time when they were not just third of the big three but about to go belly up. As he proceeded to remake the company he also became their spokesperson. He looked and sounded just like the tough Italian kid from a Pennsylvania steel town he was. One who wasn’t afraid to pick a fight with the likes of Henry Ford II.

Now, Iacocca was among other things a sophisticated salesman who knew how to charm the skin off a snake if he had to. But the TV Spots he did instead played to his gruff exterior and his reputation as a no-nonsense straight shooter. He spoke directly to the American consumer pulling no punches about the Japanese competition and mistakes Chrysler had made. But he also forcefully defended the American worker and promised they were worthy of trust. He did 61 spots over a number of years touting Chrysler’s cars and documenting their progress. His rough edges actually made him more believable as a tough, honest spokesperson. 

The Chrysler situation of the 80’s has many parallels to problems facing the GM of Today. They could use an Iacocca, both in the boardroom and as a spokesperson.

Before there was Lee Iacocca there was Frank Perdue. The second-generation owner of an east-coast poultry farm, Perdue was a thin, balding middle-aged man with aquiline features. That's being complimentary. When he became the public face of his family’s quickly expanding business, it was to convince the public that not all those pre-packaged chickens in the grocery store’s cooler were the same. Perdue Farms needed to differentiate their brand as synonymous with fresh, quality birds. To do that, they played upon the fear that a pre-packaged bird might be tough. They flipped it upside down. Because he was the antithesis of a handsome, slick corporate spokesperson, Perdue’s on-camera presence drew immediate attention. He even looked like a chicken! People made fun of his voice and his nose—but not his birds! The marketing campaign was extremely successful because the CEO’s image was well matched with a great advertising key line—“It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” If you think about it, years later Donald Trump built his tough businessman image (“You’re Fired!”) in a similar manner.

Comparing chickens to chickens, more recently Lillian Zacky fronts commercials for her poultry company, Zacky Farms. They take a totally different approach from the Perdue spots of yesteryear. Recent campaigns play on Mrs. Zacky being a concerned mother and grandmother as well as owner of the family business. They use her sweet personality and maternal instincts to connect with consumers and create trust in the product with her name on it. It works off the old rule: if you like/trust the spokesperson you’ll buy the product.

Interestingly, Perdue Farms, since the death of Frank Perdue, has moved to a similar approach as the west coast Zackys. Frank’s son, Jim Perdue, now touts the family heritage and it’s tradition of commitment to quality.  He’s a good spokesperson and looks comfortable in front of the camera but does not exude the, shall we say, uniquely ‘interesting’ character of his father.

Of course the advantage to using any top gun is they really believe in the message…and that’s infectious.

So, some of the important lessons are to make sure the spokesperson and the message mesh well; don’t have them attempt to be something they’re not; use their personality and physical appearance to best effect…and remember why you picked a company employee as spokesperson in the first place: to have someone present your message with heart and credibility.

--John W. Coleman

This is the final article of a series taken from a business White Paper of the same name. To receive a complimentary copy of the complete report contact John Coleman through Twin Oaks Communications.