Bernard O'Riordan, Clarity Media Trainer
When it comes to dealing with the media, very few words are deadlier than “no comment”. You might as well admit guilt, because that’s how that innocuous phrase is most often interpreted by reporters - and the public.
So many people instinctively think they can hide behind the phrase “no comment”, either on the advice of their lawyers or on the assumption that it keeps them safe.
That might work well in a police interrogation, but it's deadly when dealing with the media.
A "no comment" response really can be like a red rag to a bull because it instantly puts you or your organisation in an adversarial position with a reporter, it implies you have something to hide and it allows a reporter to speculate as much as they like.
Whenever someone says “no comment”, it makes them instantly powerless because they’re really surrendering control over how a situation will be reported, as this story highlights.
It encourages a reporter to dig deeper and talk to others who will put their thoughts on your issue – possibly with inaccuracies or from perspectives that do you or your company no favours.
That’s why - when a reporter is asking tough, tricky or even fair and reasonable questions that you can't or don't want to answer - it’s much wiser to arm yourself with some other non-committal statements that don’t sound so defensive or uninformed.
Depending on the situation, you could respond with: “I understand your interest, but I don’t have anything to add”; “I’m sorry but that’s not something I can’t help you with right now”; or “It’s not appropriate to say anything at this time.”
No one response fits all circumstances, particularly when things are out of your control. But you’ll give yourself a much better chance if you can avoid the knee-jerk “no comment", and even provide a reason why you won’t or can’t help.
The funny thing about “no comment”, in many instances, is that what people really mean is “I don’t know”. So if you can’t help a reporter because you just don’t have the facts, it’s often better to say so.
Here are a few simple tips to consider if you have reporters in your face:
Acknowledge: Tell a reporter that you understand why they’re asking for a view or comment, but explain why that’s not possible;
Assure: Provide some comfort and trust that you are doing everything you can to identify a problem or resolve an issue. Often your brand or reputation hinges on how you respond in a crisis, and “no comment” provides no comfort to anyone;
Explain: Maybe a matter is before the courts, or maybe you or your company are still gathering the facts on a situation. Give a reason why it would be inappropriate to talk now, but keep it nice in case you want to talk at a later stage.