I frequently have delegates in Media Skills Training workshops making the emotive point that they believe ‘no comment’ is a perfectly acceptable response to a question from a journalist.
Well, if you believe as a company spokesperson that ‘no comment’ is a good enough comment, don’t be surprised when the reporter assumes the worse, because stone-walling the media just sends out a whole bunch of negative messages.
Instead of slamming the door shut on further interrogative questions, you might as well paint the door a florescent green. Evading questions won’t help you to swim away from the sharks safely. You’d best prepare yourself for a feeding frenzy.
As a former news reporter and self-confessed news junkie, I can tell you that ‘no comment’ is like waving a flag and shouting: “Hello!! Look over here, dig deeper and do something!” If you decline to comment, you are essentially saying that you don’t take the issues too seriously.
Every question – even the difficult ones – presents an opportunity for you to get your message out there. And if one of your objectives is to resolve organizational issues before they become hot topics, offering no comment allows the press to fill in the blanks.
As uncomfortable as it may seem, there’s no better time to communicate key messages than when you’d rather duck and dive the issue. You need to divert the focus of the publicity and use this as an opportunity to communicate.
This is where planning and preparation comes in. Hopefully, your organization has clear messages and you have familiarized yourself with these concepts. Now get them out there.
There are, I hazard to say, many ways to skin a cat. One of them might be: “Thanks for asking us to participate in your story. While I may not be able to get into too much detail at this point, what I can tell you is…”
You may also want to try: “This is not an appropriate forum for me to take questions right now, but I’ll make sure to provide you that opportunity at a later date.” Then, make damn sure that you honour this commitment.
This doesn’t always come naturally and often takes a lot of practice, but it really is possible for you to weave in your key messages without having to connect with the real issue.
No comment ?? Well at least not yet…