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Don’t Clam Up in a Crisis

I know it’s counterintuitive to many people in public life and the business world, but saying nothing to the media when you are the subject of a story, particularly a negative story, is a one-way ticket to å really bad news day. And if it’s a good story, making yourself unavailable or clamming up is just plain idiotic. The strategy of “duck and cover,” as it’s known in the political world, only makes you look like you’re hiding something, whets the appetite of the media beast and keeps the news cycle churning. Unless you’re under criminal indictment and anything you say can and will be used against you, it’s always best to get your side of the story out early (preferably before the you-know-what hits the fan), shape the coverage, hold it to a cycle or two, and everybody moves on.
The graveyard of PR history is littered with the bones of poorly handled media crises. Perfect example – Tiger Woods. After things blew up outside his Windermere, Fla., home, one of the most well-known athletes in the world crawled into a bunker and assumed the fetal position. No statement, no press release, not even a tweet – from him or his manager – for days! When he finally made his infamous mea culpa almost a week later, his brand was a smoldering pile of ash. By waiting to say something, he stayed at the top of the news cycle for weeks when the story could have been contained to a few days. If he had come clean within the first 24 hours, he could have avoided the damage that arguably unraveled one of the greatest careers in sports history.
Faced with a crisis, it’s always best to say something (in consultation with your PR man, of course) instead of ducking and covering. The two cardinal sins of effective media relations are “could not be reached for comment” and “no comment.” In the age of smartphones, email, texting and 24/7 connectivity, there is absolutely no reason why anybody “could not be reached for comment.” Obviously, you didn’t want to be reached for comment and that means you’re hiding something.
If you are reached and your response is “no comment,” you ARE hiding something. Unless you are going to end up in jail, there is NEVER a reason to say, “no comment.” By preparing in advance, formulating an effective response and sticking to it, you should never have to dodge a question with a “no comment.” In fact, you should use the opportunity to recast the story and refocus the coverage in your favor.
After all, everybody understands there are two sides to a story. Okay, maybe three.