No successful media interview includes “no comment” as an answer to a reporter’s question. Here are five reasons why:
1) By not answering a question yourself, you allow someone else to fill in the blanks as they choose and — very possibly — provide a detrimental and incorrect answer.
2) You sacrifice an opportunity to shape your own message and stress key points important to you.
3) You could create the impression that you are hiding something or are guilty of a wrongdoing.
4) You could create the impression that you hold the media in contempt.
5) You lose control of the story’s impact on your image and reputation.
We’ve all seen actors in movies shouting “no comment, no comment” when pushing through a crowd of reporters and photographers outside a courthouse or police station.
Such scenes, for some, have created the impression that “no comment” is a viable response they can use to avoid answering reporters’ tough questions. Actually it is a flippant and potentially damaging non-answer.
So how should you respond if a reporter asks a question that you really can’t answer? Many times, as the primary spokesperson for numerous companies facing difficult circumstances, I’ve found myself in that exact situation. As always, the best solution was and is to tell the truth.
By explaining why you can’t provide a specific answer, reporters usually will understand. For example, these are some of the responses I’ve used:
- “Our company is in litigation over this issue, which prohibits me from discussing anything concerning the case at this time.”
- “I’m not the right person to answer your question. I will arrange an interview with the person who is.”
- “The situation is still unfolding and I do not have enough information at this time to answer your question. I will call you back when I have all the facts.”
- “I can’t answer a question concerning a hypothetical situation.”
- “I can’t answer for someone who is not associated with our company.”
- “The information you’ve been given is incorrect, so your question does not apply. These are the facts…”
If your response includes calling back the reporter, arranging an interview or otherwise providing information, it is vital to follow through with your promise in a timely manner.
Every prospective interview presents you with an opportunity to tell your own story, provide the facts and burnish your reputation.
“No comment” gets you nowhere.