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Lessons for Eskom's new spokesperson

Feb 03 2015 08:30
Matthew le Cordeur

Cape Town – People might have called him the Prince of Darkness, but former Eskom spokesperson Andrew Etzinger was well respected and trusted for his speedy and reliable updates on load shedding and the issues surrounding Eskom.

He was known to be “informed, calm, and reliable”, said brand reputation management adviser and Don Valley MD Solly Moeng.

His comments follow an announcement that Etzinger has been relieved of his duties as spokesperson to focus on integrated demand management. Khulu Phasiwe has now stepped into the spokesperson role.

Media commentators have questioned his move, saying his role was essential during this dark period in South Africa’s history.

“I hope that the powers that be thought seriously before removing Etzinger from the spokesperson role that he has played so well,” said Moeng.

Etzinger to focus on key aspect of five-point plan

When asked to comment on Etzinger’s departure from this role, Eskom said he was only the acting spokesperson and that his focus was actually in integrated demand management.

“In view of the difficulties that Eskom is currently facing and government intervention to help the company turn things around through the War Room, a decision was taken to have Khulu Phasiwe doing more of the spokesperson role while Andrew concentrates on the energy demand side management as it is one of the key focus areas in the five point plan,” Eskom told Fin24 in a statement.

Etzinger part of an elite club

Moeng said there have been very few media spokespersons that were respected by both the public and the media in South Africa over the past few years, especially in the public sector.

“Fani Zulu did a sterling job for Eskom and, for a short period, SAA. McIntosh Polela also did a good job for the Hawks before he made a blunder and sent out a tweet that cost him his job,” he said.

“Tlali Tlali first spoke for the Scorpions before moving to his current position at SAA. He’s fine, but he’s not a very exciting character and strangely flew below the radar during the current developments at SAA.

“Another brilliant and well-respected spokesperson was Themba Maseko, who spoke for national government and cabinet for a while before leaving after Thabo Mbeki was removed from power, during the interim presidency of Kgalema Motlanthe.

“More recently, Andrew Etzinger had been added to that shortlist of elite spokespersons. He was known to be informed, calm, and reliable."

Key qualities for the job

“All three qualities are essential for someone in this position because they play a key role in managing corporate reputation,” said Moeng.

“The extent to which spokespersons can be trusted by media and, by extension, by the rest of us in keeping us informed can go a long way in allaying fears and doubt in times of serious issues and crisis management.

“Etzinger did this job very well for Eskom, despite all the mess that seems to be going on in this state owned company.

“Etzinger’s calm manner had a way of calming nerves and assuring the public that there is a level of order in the mess that we’re facing. In this regard, he has set the bar quite high for his successor.

“The best thing that Eskom management can do while trying to find lasting solutions to our electricity shortage problems is to ensure that we’re reliably informed about what they’re doing.

"Replacing the spokesperson at this stage is not what I’d consider an area requiring urgent change, but I hope that his successor will keep up the quality of public and media engagement set by Etzinger.”

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