A Small Look into the Life of a Spokesperson

Carl Herrin smiles as he responds to emails in his office, 2013. Photo courtesy of Ni Lu

by Ni Lu

There is a need to have a face to the problems which plague the students, staff, and neighboring areas of Worcester State University. Whether it is a matter of parking, the enforced meal plan for commuters, or the pedestrian fee, spokespeople like Renae Claffey and Carl Herrin handle the brunt of the college’s conflict.

When dealing with a big institution like Worcester State, there will always be situations that drive the community to frustration and anxiety. While most of the attention falls to these people and their mishaps, there is hardly any thought given to those that must handle that anger.

A spokesperson does a variety of things, but mostly, they speak to the public and focus on diffusing situations to lead their establishments to positive paths.

Renae Claffey sits at her desk, writing, 2006. Photo courtesy of Renae Claffey
Renae Claffey sits at her desk, writing, 2006. Photo courtesy of Renae Claffey

Renae Claffey, the current public relations spokesperson of Worcester State, said that it is tough, especially because, “In terms of P.R., you don’t really have a whole lot of opportunities where you can get your wholesale message out there.”

Carl Herrin agreed that it could sometimes be difficult: “Your skin has to be thick, but not thick enough to lose your sensitivity to the subject.” Herrin grinned and said, “Play by the rules on one hand and then apply them judicially. Make sure you can smile at the end of the day.”

Carl Herrin smiles as he responds to emails in his office, 2013. Photo courtesy of Ni Lu
Carl Herrin smiles as he responds to emails in his office, 2013. Photo courtesy of Ni Lu

In a sense, people like Claffey and Carl Herrin, the former spokesperson of Worcester State, are the shoulders of the university: they must carry the weight of responsibility. Claffey and Herrin speak on behalf of the college and its officials so that it may uphold a good reputation.

Part of the process is advising Barry Maloney, the President of Worcester State. “The general theory,” she said, “when working for an official is you want to keep them out of the stories that are negative, so luckily that falls to the spokesperson to handle all the negatives.” She laughed lightly as she continued and explained that responding to the media is a delicate situation. “[Barry Maloney] is the [spokesperson] for all the good stories, and I think that’s the model I want here at Worcester State.”

However, there is a system to being a spokesperson. They do much more than simply speaking for media: they are closely strung into the webbing of the institution’s relations. There is a strong commutative skill not only with the President, but to others within the school.

Whenever working on an unfamiliar subject, Claffey said, “If there’s another point-person, I feel comfortable prepping them to speak about an issue.” These ‘point-people’ are the experts at WSU, such as Sibyl Brownlee, who is in charge of the Parking Committee. Spokespeople play their roles as ultimate collaborators. They offer guidance and help others in speaking about their subject to reporters. When it comes to the media, Claffey and Herrin make the gears wind.

While that may be true, there are those who doubt the authenticity of their job. “I guess some people would look at it and say, ‘Oh, you’re protecting the President, you’re protecting an image, you’re spinning’—that’s the negative P.R. term—but really, I feel like [what we say] is more reflective of what’s been done,” said Claffey in regards to journalists twisting their profession.

As Carl Herrin spoke, there was vigor in his voice. “We have to listen to these things; we have to address them to the best of our ability in a way that’s fair in what we do. And we do it.”

Deeper than their job is a genuine care for the institution and the desire to retain its reputation to keep it open to opportunities. And as the faces of the university, they are doing something good for Worcester State.

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