One of the often repeated mantras of crisis management PR is that you should “never say ‘no comment’.”
In the past, that may have been wise advice – but these days I’d argue that it’s better to say nothing than to have to walk back a holding statement that could get you into all sorts of trouble.
For one thing, the basis of what passes for a so-called crisis in these days of social media flame wars and keyboard warriors with a grudge is so contemptible that you don’t need to comment on it.
It’s often said that empty vessels make the most noise. So why dignify their clanging with a response?
If someone has no reputation other than that of being a troublemaker, is it really worthwhile to engage with them unless they are causing your brand real damage among people who matter, not just screaming into the echo chamber?
Then there are genuine crisis management situations, where something terrible has happened or something appears to have gone horribly wrong.
Remember that whatever your first public response is, it’s something you can’t take it back once you have spoken. Your whole crisis planning can be thrown off by an initial response that has not been properly considered. Your reputation is at risk.
A holding statement – along the lines of: “We take these allegations very seriously and are investigating” – is something I don’t like to use because it helps stand up the story for the journalist, even if later turns out there isn’t one.
Of course, there are PR crisis management situations when you need a holding statement, such as when you are dealing with PLCs whose share price could be affected, or where there are regulatory issues.
In most cases, you should only say anything once you have established the facts.
The first question to ask about an allegation raised by the media is: “Is it true?”
Consider your response
If you don’t immediately know the answer, find out the answer. Then you can consider your response – too often, people do these steps in reverse and that’s simply wrong.
If the facts are that you have properly investigated something and there is truth there, then of course stand up elements of the story for the reporter or issue a holding statement.
Knowing the facts also strengthens your hand when you’re responding. If a paper wants to run a story and you call them out on it, plainly telling them: “This is categorically untrue”, it can make the editorial team stop and think: “What’s the issue? Why are they coming out so forcefully on this.”
That can lead to negative stories being spiked – killed off altogether. Whereas, a holding statement would have given the story legs, in the short-term at least.
In short, when faced with a potentially damaging allegation you should keep calm, investigate and formulate an appropriate, truthful response. Facts are irrefutable.
For help and advice call our crisis management experts now on 0800 612 9890.