The most important position in any large corporation is that of company spokesman. He is the person put out front when the corporation is accused of some misdeed or violation of the law. My friend, Prof. Heinrich Applebaum, who teaches a course in corpororate spokesmanship at the Stonewall School of Business, let me attend one of his classes the other day.
There were three dummy television cameras in the room to simulate an actual press conference.
Applebaum said, "All right, Bensinger. You will play the spokesman for the Windfall Oil Co. Marx, Rogers and Clurman will be the reporters from the networks. The Department of Energy has just released a report that Windfall has bilked its customers out of $1 billion. Start the questions."
"Mr. Bensinger, the DOE says that you overcharged your customers by $1 billion. What do you say to that?"
Bensinger wet his lips. "It's a dirty, contemptible lie."
Applebaum broke in: "No, Bensinger, a company spokesman must keep his cool under media questioning. Your response should be, 'We don't wish to comment on the matter until we've read the charges.'"
"Yes, sir," Bensinger said.
Applebaum said, "That may not get you off the hook; but it's a good start. Marx, throw a tough question at him."
"Since 1974 you've overcharged the public $5 billion," Marx said. "Do you intend to return any of that money to your customers?"
Bensinger answered, "These are political charges made by a vindictive administration whose one aim is to get a large tax on all oil profits."
"Very good, bensinger," said Applebaum. "How did you come up with that one?"
"I saw it on the Crokite show last night."
"Push him hard, rogers," Applebaum yelled.
"Mr. Bensinger, you took an ad in the newspapers last week explaining that Windfall was only making half a cent on a gallon of gasoline; yet your profits were up by 234 percent. How did you make all the money?"
Bensinger looked puzzled. "I didn't understand the question."
Applebaum yelled, "That's not good enough! The cameras will close in on your face and everyone will know you're lying. Does anyone know what Bensinger should say?"
The class was silent.
Applebaum said, "You should say your gas stations made most of their profits from Coke machines. Also that you raised the cost of going to the washroom from 10 to 15 cents, which is keeping within the price guidelines."
"Will they really buy that one, Professor?"
"They will if you say it with authority. And one more thing, Bensinger, watch what you're doing with your hands. TV cameramen always like to shoot an oil spokesman's hands when he's answering a question. It's a dead giveaway that you're trying to cover something up. Clurman, it's your turn."
"Mr. Bensinger, the people think the oil companies are ripping them off. The report from the DOE seems to confirm this. How can you establish your credibility?"
"You've seen our TV commercials. It's up to the public to decide whether they want to believe Bob Hope or some flunky who works for the government."
"Bravo," said Applebaum. "I'm giving you a B-. I might have given you an A if you weren't perspiring so much. Remember this: A spokesman for a large corporation must never sweat on television."
The professor continued, "All right, class, your assignment for tomorrow is to prepare a statement for the Foul Chemical Co., defending itself against charges by Mike Wallace on '60 Minutes' that it dumped nerve gas into the Central Park Reservoir, which caused everybody in New York City to stop brushing their teeth."