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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.

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Media Relations

Can bad publicity be good?

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” You’ve probably heard that a few times. You’ve probably said it a few times. It’s a cliche that tends to make non-PR people roll their eyes. “Of course a publicity person would say that.”

Of course PR people don’t really mean it. What they really mean, I think, is that not all bad publicity is bad. And some is good.

Well, now we’ve got some research to back that up.

As it turns out, negative publicity can be helpful for raising awareness of an unknown brand.  It’s less helpful — and more hurtful — for well-known brands.

But it also matters what the nature of the bad publicity is. Bad publicity about a product or service has negative repercussions. (Think of what has happened to Toyota sales.) But bad publicity that is unrelated to the product has far less impact. The example they give is the Gap logo imbroglio. It’s unlikely that publicity about a bad logo is going to have any negative impact on sales.

What’s the takeaway here? I don’t think it ever makes sense to pull a PR stunt to try and raise awareness for your business. It’s too risky. But it likely means that you can worry a little less about negative publicity if you are small brand. Conversely you need to worry a bit more as your brand grows — you have more to lose. In any event you have the most to worry about if the negative publicity about your products. Of course I don’t think you really needed a study to tell you that.

Filed under: Crisis Communications, PR Management

How Obama Should Have Answered That Question

“If John McCain were standing here instead of me would you be asking that question?  And if the answer is ‘no’ then I think maybe you should sit down so I can take a question that is actually important to the American people.”

Okay, maybe not really.

But maybe.

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Media Relations, Politics

This guy really needs to stop talking

AP Newsbreak: SC gov ‘crossed lines’ with women

I just don’t get what the strategy is here.  Why doesn’t he just shut up and get back to work?  It doesn’t seem that he’s making anything better.  Has he just completely lost his marbles?

Oh, and by the way, the quote about “trying to fall back in love with his wife”?  Yeah, I know what I’d say if I was his wife.  “Don’t bother.”  And I’m betting his married women constituents are thinking the same thing.

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Politics

Lessons in Crisis Communication: The Sanford Affair

I think it goes without saying that Mark Sanford has screwed up. Now what?

A crisis communication specialist was on NPR on Thursday (before the Jackson news moved) to talk about how Sanford had handled the situation so far.  His advice to politicians who find themselves in situations like this:  drag the wife out, issue a short, simple statement and then don’t take questions.

I disagree with the first part and totally agree with the second and third.

Don’t drag the wife out. She’s been humiliated enough. In fact, I think most women feel a visceral disgust when they see powerful men screw up and make their poor wife stand next to them. The expression on Silda Spitzer’s face is seared on my brain and it will always make me think a bit less of the former governor.

But not taking questions is really great advice. The pro’s rationale was that there is really no good answer you can give to the questions that are going to be asked. Give a simple, to-the-point statement (which Sanford didn’t) and then get off the stage.

And now he really needs to stop talking. He held a televised (?!) meeting with his Cabinet today to apologize to them. Um, seriously? Take advantage of the Jackson tragedy and disappear. Honestly I don’t think there is anything this guy can say or do now to make his situation any better — his national ambitions are toast and he’ll be lucky to hold onto his current job. But continuing to talk can only make his situation worse. Keep quiet, fix your marriage and hope that American’s attention spans really are as short as we are always told they are.

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Politics

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