Why Saying Nothing Sometimes is a Good PR Strategy

trump at microphone

A maverick is a person who refuses to follow the customs or rules of a group, according to Merriam-Webster.

I’m considered a maverick in my approach to some PR issues, especially those involving crises, where the overwhelming approach is to 'do something fast.'

I disagree with the 'rush out a response' crowd because responding before a lot of facts are gathered often leads to additional negative media coverage that highlights mistakes in the original responses.

Also, a fast response can exacerbate imagined 'crises' and lead to a genuine PR crisis. Waiting a couple of days, unless the situation involves crime or death, often results in the story disappearing as the media concentrates on other news. Often, one or two negative articles do not create a PR crisis.

When a Problem Becomes a Crisis

Certainly, a few negative articles signify an issue or perhaps a problem. Don't ignore them. Yet, it usually takes more than a couple of bad stories to rise to the level of a PR crisis. So, saying nothing externally, at least during the early moments, can be the best advice.

Note: this is general advice and each situation is different. Moreover, as noted above, never ignore an issue. Treat it carefully. Gather facts, prepare holding statements, alert teams.

Not surprisingly, there's disagreement with this view. For example, former President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, recently issued remarks about a new book and a forthcoming one that contain unflattering portrayals of them.

In a statement, Trump said about the new book “Peril” that if its account of the nation's top soldier, "Dumbass" General Mark Milley, is true, "Then I assume he would be tried for TREASON in that he would have been dealing with his Chinese counterpart behind the president’s back and telling China that he would be giving them notification ‘of an attack.’ Can’t do that!"

He continued, "The good news is that the story is Fake News concocted by a weak and ineffective General together with two authors who I refused to give an interview to because they write fiction, not fact." Trump was referring to Peril authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

Melania Responds to Former Chief of Staff

Responding to a forthcoming book “I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw in the Trump White House,” by former aide Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump said in a statement to Politico through her office, “The intent behind this book is obvious. It is an attempt to redeem herself after a poor performance as press secretary, failed personal relationships, and unprofessional behavior in the White House. Through mistruth and betrayal, she seeks to gain relevance and money at the expense of Mrs. Trump.”

Grisham worked for the former president and Melania Trump for five years.

These responses provide important lessons that PR pros should note:

  • Commenting about negative stories can add legs to coverage since outlets will cover the responses.
  • Denying bad stories' allegations often fails unless you offer facts that prove the charges are false.
  • When the individual who denies allegations has a reputation for honesty, that person has a chance at quashing a negative story. If not, denials rarely move public perception.
  • Most important, and as noted above, don’t feel that every negative story about a person or a company needs a response. In the majority of cases, a so-called PR 'crisis' will last until the next news cycle.

More Sales

The Trumps' attacks resulted in additional publicity for the Woodward/Costa and Grisham books and likely will bolster sales.

As referenced earlier, depending on the circumstances, the best advice regarding negative coverage is  saying nothing for a couple of days. This is true especially when the story does not involve legal matters. Instead, use the time to gather facts and draft statements so you can release one if necessary.

Should stories boil into a PR crisis, a statement like, 'We gathering the facts and will issue a longer statement soon,' is recommended. When there's loss of life and injuries, your statement should express sympathy. Of course, let Legal review statements before release.

If you want to stand out on your PR team, think about being a maverick. Team players often get lost in the sheep pen.

Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller. He is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. Contact him: [email protected] or [email protected]