I once had a client who questioned the need for people to publicly react to potentially negative stories about them.
“What’s the point?” he asked. “If they just don’t comment, they stay out of the story entirely, instead of commenting and making things worse.”
Is it really that simple? Just refuse comment and you are no longer part of a negative story? As Ernest Hemingway’s Jake Barnes utters in the closing lines of The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
It is pretty, indeed. And sadly, it’s false. This is what I told my friend that day: If you refuse to comment, you are still very much a part of the story. You’re just choosing to not let your side be heard.
It’s a good bet that every journalist in the world has been told “no comment” at least once—I was a reporter for nearly seven years and I likely could have filled a notebook with the number of people who offered me that two-word response or a variation of it.
Reporters shrug when they are told “no comment” and they move on. Frankly, it makes their job a little easier. They offer someone a chance to respond to a certain issue, that person refuses, and now they are free to write the story without that person.
But while reporters shrug when “no comment” is uttered, public relations professionals grimace.
Why? Simple. “No comment” contains no message. It has no strategy. It provides no plan to advocate on one’s own behalf. All it does is surrender any chance at having a say and eliminate any chance at trying to balance a news story.
And even more? It never looks good; rather, it looks evasive and, often times, invites even more questions and more speculation. And that is how things go from bad to worse in the world of public relations.
You may not have all the facts you need to give a fully informed answer. But even a brief response is a better alternative to “no comment,” or a refusal to comment.
Any negative can be bridged into a positive, and even a brief response can provide what you need to communicate your awareness of an incident and the initial steps taken to manage it. For example, in a very general way, it could be something as simple as, “We are aware of the issue and working to gather more information as quickly as possible.” This helps you buy critical time to engage internal experts and support, gather facts and develop your strategy.
So today’s “Tuesday Tip” is as succinct as a “no comment” is meant to be, only it comes with a clear message: it’s always better to have something to say!