A spokesperson's major responsibility is to provide a public voice for an organization, whether it be a business, non-profit, or government agency. Within that role, a spokesperson usually conducts most correspondence with media outlets, such as newspapers and radio stations. A spokesperson may also communicate with members of the public who have questions about an organization. Spokespeople might also run events on behalf of an organization. Someone also might have all the obligations of a spokesperson without going by that particular title; they may, for example, be called press secretary, public relations specialist, or public information officer.
Spokespeople are often some of the most visible people within an organization. For instance, the U.S. press secretary is the White House's spokesperson. Responsible for daily press briefings, the press secretary is constantly interacting with the public and the media. That kind of exposure not only leads most members of the press to know the U.S. press secretary by name, but a good percentage of the U.S. population likely knows the press secretary by name as well.
It's common for spokespeople to come from some kind of background in journalism. Many organizations prefer that their spokesperson understand how the media operates, so they're better able to communicate with the media. Journalists, who are supposed to report the unbiased facts while working with news organizations, may have difficulty transitioning into a role where they must only put a positive spin on an organization, however.
A spokesperson might help schedule interviews and meetings with other members of an organization as well. They may also speak on behalf of another member of an organization if that individual doesn't wish to or is unable to directly address the media. Spokespeople might also be responsible for writing and sending out press releases. Some spokespeople help organize and participate in public company events as well, which may result in a fair bit of travel.
To become a spokesperson, a degree in communications, public relations, journalism, or a related field is generally necessary. Organizations hiring spokespeople may also seek out someone who has experience working with the media, whether as a reporter or in a marketing role. A hiring manager may also seek to hire from within, to ensure that the new spokesman or spokeswoman knows the organization inside and out.
Spokespeople today may also have to incorporate social media into their job role. Communicating via social networking sites is an increasingly popular way for organizations to directly address the public. It also gives companies a chance to offer creative rewards and incentives to their customer base. For example, a spokesman for a food chain may offer discounts and free deals to those following the company online.