There are times when your company becomes involved in an incident that gains unwanted attention from the media, not to mention bloggers and shareholders. When your spokesperson, CEO, CFO, president, plant manager and so on are prepared, their comments can often diffuse a situation before it becomes much larger.
But there are certain phrases that always make me cringe when I read them. Most often they are part of a quote that someone has made to a newspaper or magazine. Someone, that is, who thinks he or she doesn’t require media training. Here are a few shining examples:
We have no comment at this time.
We are investigating that internally.
Above [my/his/her] pay grade.
The first two seem innocuous enough, don’t they? If you’re a company spokesperson or even a CEO, you may not be able to comment about some incident. You may not have all the facts, or you may have all the facts, but your attorneys (got to love your attorneys) tell you that whatever you say can and will be used against the company. So you decide to say that you can’t say anything.
Actually, there are better things to say to a reporter that don’t make you look unprepared. I mean, come on, you knew that you were going to be asked about the incident, so why weren’t you prepared with a better statement than “no comment”?
“We have no comment at this time,” is actually a pretty damning comment.
“We are investigating that internally,” sounds like you’re saying “we’re trying our best to shred any evidence.”
If you have a policy not to comment about former employees, publish that policy and make sure that the reporters who cover your company are aware of it. If you are investigating some incident internally, or if you are cooperating in a larger investigation with the local police/FBI/SEC, then tell reporters that you are doing so and that you will provide them with details as soon as legally possible.
But, whatever you do, don’t correct one of your employee spokespersons after the fact by telling reporters that the person provided an incorrect answer about something that was “above his pay grade.” That comment is just plain stupid. Get some media training!.