I don’t know any better way than just to come out and say it, just don’t say, “no comment.” There has to be another answer that you can give. Reporters and your audience can’t stand hearing those two simple words. As Nancy Reagan always said, “Just say NO,” to “no comment.”
The issue with the ever so easy to say and often used phrase is that “no comment” really is a comment. Short of cursing and admitting guilt or failing to show remorse, it is very likely the worst thing you can say. By saying “no comment,” you often imply guilt or culpability. Try to avoid phrases that sound like, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” from the “Wizard of Oz.”
Dammit, you said “no comment”
So, you did it anyway, you said “no comment,” so what’s the big deal? Well, the issue is easy; by not commenting, you are allowing someone else to tell your story! So, what if it hurts, it will hurt less if it is in the news for a day than for days, weeks or months. Just ask former President Bill Clinton when asked about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky!
Your story may be ugly, but you will tell it better than anyone else. What if you can’t tell your story, because it is against our policy, under investigation, a personnel matter or some other legitimate reason, no problem? Try answering like this, “I’m sorry, but right now, that matter is under investigation, so we are unable to add more context.” Put it in your words, but avoid those two dirty words.
Get Trained / Be Prepared
While it is easy to say, it is another thing to practice the avoidance of “no comment.” The most obvious thing to do is be well prepared before ever walking out of the building or walking into the room. You need to be media trained. You can’t take it back after you’ve screwed up, you have to do it right the first time. Be a good Boy Scout and “Be Prepared.” Yes, I’m an Eagle Scout.
There are some situations where you can’t avoid saying “no comment,” but even then, you need to be talking with the attorneys and see if there is a better phrase for your situation. In PR Week’s July 9, 2015 article Why ‘no comment’ is no good, by Ben Rosner says, “There are, of course, times when it is not only appropriate but also legally necessary to say, ‘no comment.’ For example, during a potential or ongoing merger or acquisition, multiple securities laws could be violated by any official comment or acknowledgment that the process is taking place. It is common practice in such situations – and expected by seasoned M&A reporters who have to ask the question anyway – to provide a ‘no comment.'”
Don’t say, “No Comment”
So, what can you say to avoid getting yourself in deep
Don’t say, “no comment,” share with them a source that can better answer the question that doesn’t have the same restrictions. Your reporter is much more likely to cover a story in a better light if they have some part of your story and because you just helped them do their job. Industry associations, researchers and others can go on background to help educate the reporter or may be able to provide that insight that you are looking for. Again, helping the reporter is good for the future of your relationship.
- I don’t have anything to say about that.
- I am hard-pressed to talk about a lawsuit we haven’t yet seen.
- The matter is under seal at this time. How else can I help you?
- We have a responsibility to be fair, thoughtful and professional. We will live up to our obligation.
- My earlier statement stands and is complete.
- We will not cut corners in the interest of public curiosity.
- That someone else has chosen to talk to you does not alter our responsibility to defer public comment at this time.
- I am sorry, I would like to help you, but the court has ordered that we not engage with the media at this time.
- Without commenting on any specific case, here’s the general rule.
- I won’t be able to answer that question until our work is concluded.
- No one in this office is going to prejudge a case that’s still under investigation.
- Until the court/jury/legislature decides, it is premature to speculate about the next step.
- Let me tell you one reason for our longstanding policy of deferring comment: Frankly, some of the information we receive is unreliable.
- It would be irresponsible for us to share yet to be verified allegations.
- It would compromise our efforts if I publicly discussed the matter with you at this point.
- I am not the right person to answer your question. Please consider reaching out to…
- I am not the right person to talk to on that, but I can share the research or court document with you to read and interpret for yourself.
- I hear your concern for sharing the information, but sometimes we all have to wait until the time is right.
- I hear the question, but at this point, what you are asking is protected by attorney-client privilege.
- From a process standpoint, first, we gather the facts. Then we look at the law. We stack those two things up and see where it takes us.
- The challenge for us is to assure you and the public that we’re doing the right thing. When we can share more details with you how we will.
- The timeframe is driven by the facts, and they’re not all in yet.
- At this time, we are not at liberty to interpret the court’s findings.
- Our policy prohibits us from talking about…
- I am not able to speculate…
Engage the Reporter
So when a reporter walks up and sticks his mic in your face as you are trying to get somewhere, just stop for a second, take a deep breath and be nice. Now smile, listen to the question and then say, “I do appreciate your desire to get to the bottom of the issue, but right now, I am not at liberty to share more than what I already have. What I can do for you is this. I’ll be back here in front of my office in an hour and let you know what I have learned.”
Address the reporter, be polite, bridge their question to allow yourself to move beyond, but if you promise to be out in an hour, don’t be late. If you promise to email or call the reporter back, be sure to do so. Don’t just do it to ghost them! Remember don’t say, “no comment.”
By Brian Murnahan