No comment? No thanks..

“We contacted the Government/Opposition to invite them to take part in the programme but a spokesman declined our invitation”.

Words heard almost as regularly on Radio 4’s Today programme as the weather or Thought for the Day.

When it comes to media manipulation, politicians are in a class of their own and while there might be many legitimate reasons for not wishing to comment on a particular issue, the suspicion among many of us mere mortals is that they’re just trying to avoid a few uncomfortable public moments because they’ve either screwed up or have been ‘caught out’. Perish the thought,m’lud.

It’s this slipperiness which has contributed to the low esteem in which many politicians are held, whatever their political colours. Indeed, our expectations are now arguably so low that we’re not even surprised any more when they avoid the question.

Avoiding the question is bad enough but avoiding the interview itself gives the impression of ‘guilt’ – ‘What has he/she got to hide?’

And you know what, that’s not going to improve.

So please don’t be tempted to follow suit if your company is thrust into the media spotlight. Such an approach is fraught with danger.

“You cannot avoid the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today”.

(Abraham Lincoln)

Are there any circumstances when “No comment” is a legitimate response to a an inquiry from the media?

Well, no.

If your company is under pressure to provide a statement to the media and you’re not ready for an interview due to genuinely more pressing issues (I’m assuming that you don’t have a big or even any PR department) then tell them that there’ll be a statement “later today”, and specify a time, which you must honour.

The rule of thumb is that the quicker you respond to a media inquiry the better. Social media means that bad (and good!) news can be out there, shared and commented on within seconds of an incident.

So time is crucial.

But so is accuracy.

Trust

The need for a speedy reaction to a breaking news story should NOT be an excuse to rush something out without carefully preparing what you’re going to say.If you’re taking the trouble to prepare a press statement or a tweet make sure someone you’d trust with your life casts his or her eyes over it before you push ‘send’.

A second and third pair of eyes often prevents semantic or grammatical gremlins being exposed to the full media glare. Obviously a company’s priority is to ensure that the incidents at the root of the crisis are tackled, but before a public statement it’s essential that you get your messaging right.

How are you tackling the issues, what are your key messages to show that you’re acting responsibly?

First impressions count, and you might only get one chance to put your side of the case in the immediate aftermath of a news story, so good prep is half the battle.

If you know there’s incontrovertible evidence that your organisation has screwed up badly, admit it, apologise,make sure you start to redress the matter and explain how you’re doing this.

And when I say ‘apologise’, again, don’t take your lead from some of our political elite.

What do I mean?

        • “I apologise if anyone has been offended by my remarks but that was not my intention.”
        • “I regret the incident and will work hard to ensure the situation doesn’t happen again.”

They are not full apologies and if you use them you will appear slippery.

So be AUTHENTIC.

As Old Abe knew, the longer you delay the interview or the statement the more rumour and speculation will increase.

“No comment” will simply make the situation worse.

In my 30 years’ experience as a BBC journalist and editor I came across very few organisations (political representatives excepted) who refused to speak to the media about a news story.

Those that did are indelibly etched in my mind and most are no longer in business.

Is your organisation in a potentially vulnerable situation that could easily result in negative media coverage? If so, make sure your crisis communications strategy is up to scratch and that your team know what to do when you have an emergency that could attract media attention.

The wrong move early on in the process can mean things spiral out of control whereas early action can relieve a considerable amount of pain in the long-run.

Indeed if your company prides itself on forward-thinking ensure you’ve got a robust strategy NOW before there’s a real crisis.

At Mickord.com my team will come to your organisation and set up intensive mock-news exercises, replicating real-life crisis scenarios whereby managers and staff respond to evolving “news” stories, encompassing social and mainstream media and live “interviews” with a team of senior journalists, each with more than 30 years’ experience at the sharp end of news.

We also focus on internal communications, an area which too many organisations ignore when the spotlight is elsewhere. Some companies forget that once a crisis is over it can provide, if managed correctly, a HUGE opportunity to increase effectiveness, morale and brand reputation.

And you can’t do that with ‘No Comment’.

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