There is a simple two-word phrase that sends every communications pro spiraling: “No comment.”
While pleading the fifth is of value when dealing with a legal crisis, using “no comment” to respond to uncomfortable media inquiries is usually not in anyone’s best interest.
First, “no comment” has become synonymous with “I’m guilty” in the court of public opinion. The phrase screams, “I’m uncomfortable,” “I don’t know what to say,” “I’m not prepared” and “I’m afraid to incriminate myself” all at once. Because when someone refuses to answer a question, it raises suspicions.
“Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.” —H. Jackson Brown Jr.
It can be a big mistake to pass on an opportunity to comment. It’s important to recognize that a journalist will write that story with or without you. By saying “no comment,” you forfeit the power to shape the narrative or even correct the record. This can result in serious reputation damage.
You’re also walking away from useful information. By cooperating with a journalist on a story, you can gain valuable insight into who else has been interviewed — possibly a competitor or opponent; when the story will be published — helping your in-house team prepare; and what misinformation may be spreading up the chain in the press — giving you a chance to organize better messaging and delivery before the wildfire spreads.
A Better Response
The best defense is an offense. Media training helps individuals learn how to react in the most uncomfortable of situations, how to reframe a tough question and deliver an answer that is seen in a positive light.
If you are ever truly caught off guard, it’s best to offer to get back to the reporter with the information they need — and then do it! Don’t leave a journalist hanging.
A strategic communications team will know what to do next: if it’s a legal issue, an appropriate statement that is sensitive yet protective will be drafted. If it’s a scandal or larger crisis, rapid response will be deployed to manage the crisis at every necessary level.