The media can prove a great outlet for free press for your small business, as you have probably come to realize from reading this blog. A well written, well targeted press release can get you the publicity you require to get eyes to turn your direction and get your products moving. However, when something goes wrong in your company (or because of your company), you can also count on the media turning into your worst enemy. Why? Because it’s their job to report the news. And everyone knows the public loves to feed on the negative!
So what happens when things turn south and the media is knocking on your door, asking those hard questions for which you may not have a good answer? In many cases, the unprepared figures they have Constitutional rights and they can reply with the old “no comment.” Well, yes you do have that right, but it’s ill-advised to exercise it.
See, when you respond in this way, everyone assumes you mean something else. In other words, “no comment” is a lame attempt at a cover up. Here are a few things they are actually hearing in their heads instead of your reply:
I don’t know what you’re talking about — Imagine the horror. Maybe there was a scandal that was just uncovered. And you as the business owner or PR person are confronted, caught off guard, and everyone thinks you have no clue what is going on. Now not only is the public witnessing the scandal unfold, but they also see you as uninformed.
We did the something wrong but are afraid to admit it — You know exactly what you did, but you think admitting it will only make things worse. So now you’re just hiding something. And as far as the media is concerned, there’s probably more you’re hiding that hasn’t come to light yet. So they’re going to dig deeper. Watch out!
I’m defensive — The average person’s response when accused of wrongdoing is to get defensive. In fact, it’s a natural defense mechanism. However, getting defensive only makes you look even more guilty.
We have no acceptable justification for what occurred — You know exactly what happened and you simply have no response. Incidentally, this only makes the whole situation look worse. Rather than offering an answer to diffuse, the issue only grows larger in listeners’ minds.
We did nothing wrong — Then there are those who believe your lack of comment means you really think you did nothing wrong. Not only that, you feel like you owe no one an explanation. Not a good PR move.
What to Do Instead of Avoiding the Answer
So we know you shouldn’t avoid commenting, but that leaves you trying to figure out what to say. While there is no one-size-fits-all response, here are a couple pointers to help you.
Verify — Say you are being pressed on whether or not a certain member of your organization had been arrested in the past. Rather than not comment, maybe tell the media that they will have to verify the information with the police.
Assure — Afterward, assure the public that you are doing everything you can to take care of the issue internally. So again to follow up on the last example, if your employee is accused of skeletons in his closet, say you are actively investigating the issue.
Have you ever been hit with a tough question from the media that you didn’t want to answer? Did you say “no comment?” Or did you respond differently? How did it work out for you?