How can two words speak volumes? Think of the words “I do.” Say those two words, and you enter a lifelong contract. Say “no comment” during a media interview, and you catapult your company into crisis mode.
Why is that? How can silence cause a multitude of havoc and send your company into immediate damage control? Oh, but you weren’t silent, and you did say something. In fact, the phrase "no comment" has many unintentional meanings. What does your audience think when they hear or read this seemingly harmless phrase?
• I’m guilty. You just admitted a level of guilt. Whether you did or did not do something illegal or unethical, that’s now how you are being interpreted. It translates into “I know I did something wrong, and I am not about to admit it, because it will only make matters worse.”
• I’m clueless. You just admitted to the masses that you have no idea what is going on within your own company. Do you not communicate with your team? Are you the last one to know? Either way, you seem uninformed and unprepared.
• I’m afraid. You are responding as though you have been “advised” to make no comment, which is expected from someone who is being accused. You are hiding behind a line of defense and aren’t talking. In other words, you're sending out the message "leave me alone."
A more acceptable and reasonable response during a time of crisis or inquiry -- when details aren't yet available -- is to say “At this time, we are working closely with the internal team and will release a statement as soon as possible,” or "Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to answer any questions currently but will be happy to address them in detail when I have more information.”
Another public relations best practice is to avoid repeating an interviewer’s words or phrases when they have a negative connotation for your brand. For example, if a reporter asks about the potential for the recent merger of your company to cause layoffs, you want to avoid the word "layoff" in your response all together. It doesn’t matter if you said there would not be layoffs. The only word the public will remember hearing is "layoff." A better response is “We have added more jobs due to this merger and value all of our staff.”
These public relations best practices are easier said than done in the moment, because this isn’t what you do on a daily basis. You run a company, not the media department. If you don't have a media department, consider reaching out -- before a crisis occurs -- for professional coaching and training in the areas of media relations and speech writing.
Lori Turner-Wilson can be reached at www.redrovercompany.com.