Why ‘no comment’ is no good

HillaryThe news that 10 of the world’s top 25 PR companies say they will not represent clients who deny climate change is welcome indeed. The ten were responding to surveys conducted by The Guardian and the US-based Climate Investigations Centre, which asked about the firms’ own attitudes towards climate change as well as their policy towards taking on clients with certain views or actions. What is baffling however is the non-response of the other 15, with several refusing to comment at all.

As supposed master communicators, they will be aware that unless there is a genuine legal requirement for silence, a ‘no comment’ response is rarely satisfactory and just leads to more questions. Challenging as this survey may have been, burying the corporate head in the sand on such a crucial topic is hardly walking your talk.

My advice to clients is be prepared to answer the very questions you hope you’ll never be asked. For one business leader, this was being quizzed about his personal carbon footprint (he had to fly frequently to Africa to develop and test a new type of bio char fuel). His travel certainly incurred C02 emissions but the potential of the new product in helping reduce C02 was globally significant and on balance, he found an answer he was comfortable with.

Is there a question that makes you break out in a sweat? Here are three tips for avoiding getting caught in the ‘no comment’ trap:

1. Be prepared
Someday someone may ask you the question you really would rather they didn’t. Do yourself a favour and consider what this question might be and work out a response now. It may change over time but at least some of the hard graft will have been done.

2. Make like Hillary
US ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is known for her legendary preparation when faced with the prospect of tough questioning. Leading speaker and coach Carmine Gallo believes she applies a similar five-step technique to his own ‘bucket method’ which includes considering anticipated questions and putting them into broad categories that helps when considering possible responses.

3. Play it straight
Maybe there are excellent reasons for your position on X, or mitigating circumstances which have lead to situation Y – the main thing is to strive to be authentic, transparent and direct. I’m sure those silent PR pros in their hearts would agree.