By now it should be settled: when confronted by an inquiring reporter, never ever respond with “No comment.” Just don’t, no matter how uncomfortable a question makes you. As others before me have emphatically noted there is no faster way to make a reporter instantly suspicious. And the public, if the reporter decides to publish your “no comment.”
Yet companies keep saying it. Over and over and over. And so, we must keep advising they not. I polled a number of my colleagues here at Amendola Communications for their thoughts on alternatives to a phrase that’s anathema to the media and public alike.
“When you are approached by a reporter and there is a temptation to respond “no comment” that usually means it’s a negative story. But by commenting you have an opportunity to contain, control, or redirect the narrative to something more favorable,” observes Ken Krause, senior account director at Amendola.
Otherwise, he adds, by responding “no comment” you are leaving it to others to fill in the blanks.
“And they may do it in a way that is not only bad for your organization but incorrect; at which point you’ll have to do full-on damage control. But the horse is already out of the barn,” Ken warns.
It’s also just a plain off-putting statement that comes across as dismissive and even arrogant.
“You’re actually better not commenting than saying ‘no comment’…. that said, a response of some sort is almost always better,” Tara Stultz, VP at Amendola advises.
As for what that response should be, it hinges on a multitude of scenarios. But honesty is the crucial ingredient in any response, even if your comment is more or less a brief one noting that your company is still in the fact-finding stage.
“In a crisis situation, you really do need to have an answer, even if it’s a non-answer initially. If a reporter is trying to get someone to dish on a story they aren’t ready to release, saying ‘we aren’t ready to discuss at this time’ or ‘we will be ready to discuss it at a later date’ I think is perfectly acceptable,” shares Linda Healen, senior account director at Amendola.
Even a “I can’t comment at this time” is softer than “no comment.” But follow it with a reason why. In healthcare, for example, companies are sometime asked about specific patient cases, which by law they can’t discuss without a patient’s express, written permission.
“In that case, it’s fine to note that you can’t comment due to HIPAA privacy requirements, but you could follow by noting some trends in general that apply to that situation,” recommends Megan Smith, senior account director at Amendola.
Of course, the best way to increase the chance you’ll give the best possible answer is to plan ahead for questions that could otherwise catch you off guard. That’s why at Amendola we place a lot of importance on messaging, media training, and crisis communications drills. In today’s fishbowl climate, these are elements that every organization should cultivate. If you haven’t yet, give us a call. We’re here to help!