I can probably think of no two worse words to say to the media than ‘no comment’.
There is no exception, NEVER under any circumstances, to use these words when doing a media interview. Why? Because not only does it sound as though you are hiding something, but it also becomes a quotable news ‘grab’ or a quote which can be used in the local media.
The media can’t quote what you don’t say.
I recently watched a television interview and the spokesperson was asked the question: “When did you discover your company had its food products tampered with, and what did you do about it?” the spokesperson responded with “No comment” which, in my opinion, translated to “we didn’t find out quickly enough and once we did find out we didn’t act as quickly as we should have.”
Don’t get me wrong, if you are doing a media interview and you don’t know the answer to the question you are asked, or you can’t answer for legal reasons, the most natural response to come out of your mouth is “no comment.”
There are, however, many alternatives such as “I am not the best person to answer that question, but what I can tell you is…” or “That’s not what we are here to discuss, I can talk to you about x, y or z” or even “I am unable to talk about that, but I can talk about…”
I have worked with clients who have had an employee arrested for something and the media has approached the company CEO for a comment about any charges which would be laid. Instead of responding with “no comment” I encouraged the CEO to respond with “Unfortunately, that is a question you will need to confirm with the police” and he/she then responded with a positive answer about how the business was handling the situation internally and improving its practices.
Every crisis situation is an opportunity to reinforce positive messages about your brand and company image.
Some final tips:
1) Always have a “positive message” and take every opportunity to present it.
2) Don’t lie to the media, the consequences will always be worse for you.
3) If you can’t answer a question, say so and explain why. Journalists might not like that answer but most will understand.
Above all, don’t let poor media handling turn a minor incident into a major public image disaster. Have a plan in place, go out there and own the issue.