Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Misunderstood Power of ‘No Comment’

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Shreya Christinahttps://cafe-madrid.com
Shreya has been with cafe-madrid.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider cafe-madrid.com team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

By Evan Nierman, Founder & CEO of Red Banyanan international crisis communications company, and author of the Amazon bestseller Crisis averted

“No comment.”

It’s a phrase you’ve probably used often when a reporter calls with questions about a case. You don’t want to jeopardize anything, so you cut the conversation off and get back to work. Case closed.

But is that really the best action to take?

From a strategic communication standpoint, it can be a big mistake to pass up an opportunity to comment. A determined reporter will write a story with or without your perspective. By saying “no comment,” you are relinquishing your power to steer the story in your organization’s favor. Worse, you could hand that power over to someone on the other side who will get their version of the facts on record first.

The court of public opinion matters. The saying, “he who creates the story controls the story,” has much truth in it.

This brings me back to the power of the expression “no comment”. When you say, “no comment,” there is almost always someone else willing to think along. Anyone who thinks they can master the story with this slogan is in for a big surprise.

Here are some viable options:

• If you feel comfortable talking to the media, reformulate the question in a light that is more constructive for your organization and then share your perspective on the issue.

• If you don’t feel comfortable dealing with journalists, assign a company spokesperson to handle media questions, which also gives you more time to formulate a sound response. However, make sure the spokesperson calls back, otherwise journalists will find the information elsewhere.

• Hire a strategic communications agency to handle media inquiries. Professional communications agencies can help craft an effective strategy that shapes the story to best reflect the interests of the business.

Remember, if you don’t speak or answer questions, the reporter will go elsewhere. Reporters survive on information, and if you don’t provide answers that will benefit your client, someone else could craft a message that portrays your client in a negative light.

Then you are forced to respond to someone else’s conditions. And that’s the worst-case scenario if you want to promote your client’s business.

And that’s not the only thing that can go wrong. Right or wrong, a non-answer can imply guilt. And by working with the media, a reporter’s phone call can also be an opportunity to build relationships that provide perspective and inspire confidence.

We like to believe in a presumption of innocence, and we’re told that when someone “plees the fifth,” we shouldn’t label them innocent or guilty. But people are often skeptical.

When someone refuses to answer, we become suspicious and wonder if they are hiding something. The longer you opt out of the conversation, the longer someone else’s story is associated with the truth.

Understanding the value of working with reporters as a means to get the truth out, tell the story, and influence public opinion can strategically benefit your business. And working with reporters, both in public and out, can provide them with important background information that provides perspective and insight.

A reporter with background information on an issue may decide to hold on to an article and wait for more information, or may kill the piece after learning that the full screenplay is less convincing than originally portrayed. That’s why two-way communication can be incredibly important.

Airing the untold side of a story can have profound implications and can even help a targeted company or individual take back a story that may have gotten out of hand. Sometimes the facts on their faces don’t tell the full story.

Organizations that have no relationship with the media probably don’t think about the strategic value of communication. And if you look through that prism, there are many reasons why a simple “no comment” seems sensible.

But the power of public opinion should never be ignored. Conversations and targeted messages that bend the story so that it puts your organization in a more favorable light may be necessary to show that there is more to the story than meets the eye.

“No comment” does not always have to be your comment. By providing information to the media on your terms, you can influence the story rather than transfer control to the other side.

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