As communications professionals, we all run into situations where our companies or clients have to deal with unpleasant or negative news. Our first instinct is to go into “ostrich” mode – burying our heads in the sand and hoping things will just go away.
Responding in these tough times is gut-wrenching. It’s hard work. It’s unpleasant. It’s time consuming. And it’s fraught with risks. But a bigger risk comes with NOT responding.
So, when the situation comes up and “No comment” is the only thing your CEO wants to say, ask him or her to consider that:
1) The story is going to run anyway, with or without our input. Why not get our key messages into the story?
2) When we say “no comment,” people tend to infer that we’re hiding something … they assume we are guilty, wrong or uncaring. Do we want to allow that to happen?
3) By being silent, we enable our opponents (or the media) to control the story, set the agenda and dictate the timing. Do we want to be forced to play defense from such a disadvantage?
4) If we don’t participate, we lose the opportunity to tell our side of the story. Wouldn’t it help our cause to show our empathy for those affected, to sincerely apologize for our mistake or to show what we’re doing to remedy the situation?
5) In the absence of information, people just plain make stuff up. If we don’t provide information, someone else will. Do we really think what they say about us will be positive?
Finally, share with your CEO this Wall Street Journal quote from the CEO of Delphi, Steve Miller, whose company recently emerged from a difficult bankruptcy: “I was very outspoken when we (first) went into Chapter 11. But there was a lot of pushback and criticism. We made the decision to shut up. But if I had to do it all over again, I would keep speaking out. When you are in a controversial situation, you are going to be criticized whatever you do. The critics said ‘Steve Miller is the devil incarnate,’ and we said “No comment.” The only thing out there for the public was the notion of a devil.”
So tell your story … or there may be Hell to pay later.