The Storyteller

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She who tells the best story wins.

No Comment

It’s a familiar trope. The disgraced politician facing flashbulbs and screamed questions from hordes of reporters shouts back “No comment!”

Of course just like you probably wouldn’t want your doctor to do the things she sees on “Grey’s Anatomy,” saying “no comment” in real life situations is a very bad idea.

“No comment” is universally interpreted as “I’m a big fat lying liar.” It also tends to inspire journalists to dig into whatever you aren’t commenting on.

A recent post on Ragan.com offers 5 alternatives to no comment. While there are few good ideas here, I think the author misses a big first step. Why are you not commenting?

Times when you are tempted to say “no comment” fall into three buckets:

1. You are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to and you don’t have access to the answer. I tell people all the time, it’s perfectly okay to say you don’t know the answer to a question. It can get tricky if the writer believes you *should* know the answer. (Example: “Mr. CEO what precautions did you take to be sure this big, bad thing would not happen?” Answering “I don’t know” is rarely going to take you down a good road.) But if you being asked to comment on something about which you don’t have information you can say so, and make it clear that you aren’t hiding anything, you simply don’t know anything.

2. You are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, but you could get an answer. This is easy. Get the answer. Or give the journalist directly to the person with the answer (working with your friendly neighborhood PR pro, if applicable). This is where you can say “I don’t know the answer to that question, but my colleague Bob will. Let me send him an email and see if he’s available to talk to you.”

3. You are asked a question you don’t want to answer. Ah well. This is really the problem, right? This is where the suggestions on Ragan.com can probably help you, though truthfully I see most of them leading to something like “Mr. BigWig would not comment for this story.” Which is the real point, right? It’s not about whether or not you say the words “no comment” — if you don’t answer the question you will be called out for not answering the question. So at the end of the day you have to pick your poison. Do you answer the question and take the hit (presuming the answer is bad)? Or do you refuse to answer and get portrayed as hiding something? Only you (and your execs) can decide what is the worse scenario.

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Filed under: Crisis Communications, Media Relations

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