Journalists and PR professionals have rather a symbiotic relationship. They both need each other (even if they think they don’t). There is a significant responsibility on the part of both to ensure the delivery of accurate, informative and timely news. To do this properly, journalists require companies and individuals to be responsive. There’s an onus on the PR representative to make sure this happens. When it doesn’t, nobody benefits. In fact, it makes things worse. A bland, vacuous statement, or worse, the de facto defence mechanism “No comment,” sends a very clear signal to the audience. Far from thinking everything is fine because you’ve not actually revealed anything, responding in this way tells the listener or viewer that actually, you mean something else but are simply trying to cover your tracks.
This is what “No comment” means to the recipient:
You’ve done something wrong but are afraid to admit it.
You think admitting that you’ve made a mistake or error of judgement will only make things worse, so now you’re just going to hide behind this statement. As far as the media is concerned, there’s probably more information that hasn’t come to light yet, so they’re going to dig deeper, which will mean further exposure and probably more serious ramifications to your reputation.
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Maybe a scandal has just been uncovered and you as the business owner or PR person have been caught off guard. As a result, everyone thinks you have no clue what is going on. Now not only is the public witnessing the scandal unfold but they also see you as uninformed and perhaps unable to control the situation.
Your lawyers told you to say nothing
The average person’s response when accused of wrongdoing is to get defensive. In reality however, this only makes you look even more guilty.
You don’t care
There are those who believe your lack of comment simply means you think you did nothing wrong and there’s no case to answer. Not only that, you feel like you don’t owe anyone an explanation, which comes across as not caring at all. Not a good PR move.
Instead of “No comment,” this is what you need to do
Even if the situation appears desperate, when presented with a media opportunity, you MUST make it work to your advantage. It’s an opportunity to have your say and control the situation. If you decline or ignore it, the media will simply do it without your input, which is likely to be more damaging to your reputation.
Here’s a couple of tips on giving an alternative response:
As an example, if a member of your organization has been arrested, rather than not comment, advise the media that you are aware of the situation and that the business is co-operating fully with the authorities. If pressed, calmly advise that an investigation is ongoing to determine all the facts.
Affirm to the audience that you are doing everything in your power to address and wherever possible, rectify the issue. Be empathetic to the needs of those affected and take control of the situation. This does not mean you will be seen to carry blame. Rather, it suggests that you care and have a desire to sort the situation out. If need be, say that you are actively investigating the issue.
If your business is facing a difficult situation which could develop into a media story, please contact us to discuss our crisis management service.