Why 'No Comment' Isn't Usually the Right Comment

13 Feb 2018

Published in: Miscellaneous

Award winning journalist and Director of Small Man Media, Ben Smallman, explains why "no comment' isn't usually the right comment.

Ben said: "It might sound like a cliché, but honesty tends to be the best policy when faced with a crisis of any size. I recall a couple of encounters with the late, great Ed Doolan of Radio WM when working with Severn Trent Water. When the legendary consumer champion would call about delays in fixing a burst water main somewhere, the press office would stop in its tracks.

"As a number of colleagues would cower at the thought of facing the presenter, I would invariably be thrust onto the airwaves to defend the corporate giant's honour. Whilst some advocated saying nothing and emailing a generic statement, I said sorry, on behalf of the company, having investigated the circumstances.

"Expecting a torrent (pun alert!) of invective from Ed, the moment was extinguished as he paused, took stock of my response and told his listeners that he couldn't really add much more to that, aside from telling us to make sure it didn't happen again!

"Such experiences - whilst petrifying at the time - have lived with me, as a simple message of honesty can disarm even the most intimidating of journalists. And when it came to Ed Doolan, they didn't get any more intimidating (nor sorely missed having passed away recently).

"Of course, journalists are always out to get a story of some description and while it is wise to be wary, it is also wise to make yourself available and appreciate the job that they have to do. What's more, the media has a habit of biting you on the backside when you might need a favour yourself.

"The cyclical world of PR means that when reporters aren't after a comment, you'll soon be needing to return the call yourself for something completely different. From experience, it is preferable to forge a good relationship by engaging at the outset, as their contact details will be worth their weight in gold when you need to promote a positive announcement of your own.

"Having opted to be honest, you'll then want to be prepared.

"When dealing with a potentially negative story, it pays to work up a "Q&A' sheet in the advent of the phone ringing. This can pre-empt questions that might be asked and create a uniformed message amongst you and your colleagues. And don't feel afraid to ask for a list of questions from the journalist you're dealing with before going back with a comment. It never hurts and they will usually oblige.

"If anyone is reactively challenged, then you can always refer to this Q&A document. And while on this theme, never speak "off the record' as such a concept doesn't exist. When one old colleague admitted that the company he represented had been "caught on the hop' in an off-the-record observation, those four words comprised a page lead headline the following day! Be polite, yes, but don't be too casual and remember that every comment uttered can form the body of the next article.

"Then, prepare a release with your communications team or PR agency (in addition to the Q&A). Cover off as much information as you can, in a succinct manner.

"Finally, media training can be invaluable in preparing for any eventuality. It might feel that a day out of the office and dealing with hypothetical crisis scenarios is not a priority amid your hectic daily schedules, but when applicable it can be priceless.

"Ex-BBC 6 "O' Clock newsreader Andrew Harvey gobbled me up for breakfast a few years ago, and the experience stood me in good stead for a life in PR, however much I hated watching myself back on TV!

"Such training helps in keeping calm, not rushing and eradicating those nervous ticks that you never knew existed.

"In conclusion, be honest, be prepared and if you're unsure, don't panic!"

Small Man Media boasts a team of qualified journalists and PR experts and are based in the heart of Wolverhampton. The PR specialists have advised many clients on crisis management over the years. For more information please call 01902 587001 or visit www.smallmanmedia.com.


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