You may be one of the lucky ones who never find themselves in front of the media over a contentious issue or crisis. However – conflict is exactly what makes news ‘news’ and if you watch the news tonight you will see that common theme behind every story – conflict – man versus the environment, political party versus political party, big corporate versus little guy – you get what I mean.
So if you find yourself in a crisis situation or you have a contentious issue that needs addressing in the media, responding with the words “no comment” will only worsen your situation. By offering “no comment” you are still sending a message to your audience but it won’t be the right one. “No comment” equals “guilty”. The media and the public will speculate and assume there is something to hide. Offering “no comment” will not make the story go away. It will simply send media in a different direction so if they can’t get a comment from you, they’ll get one from someone else and that someone else could be the ‘other’ party, your competitor, previous employees, who knows? In this case, the comments may not be the ones you would like to see in the story.
So what do you do if you can’t actually address the issues at hand? The rule of thumb is to explain why you can’t respond and put things in perspective. Relevant key messages may also help you tell your story on your terms.
Here are six alternatives to the words “no comment”.
- “I think it would be clearer if I first explained….”,
- “I don’t have all the facts to be able to answer that question accurately but I can tell you that …” (continue with your key message),
- “To answer that you must consider the following points…”
- “Actually, that relates to a more important concern….”
- “Your question points out a common misconception we hear too often. The real issue here is …”
- “For legal reasons I am unable to answer that question, however I can tell you this…”
Remember, many times the reporter’s next question will be based on your last answer. If you successfully bridge to your message, the reporter may stay on that topic.
Remember (almost) any response is better than a “no comment” response.