No comment is no option, say top business writers

Deploying a ‘no comment’ crisis response can have disastrous consequences, national journalists warned PROs this week.

Almost 200 PR professionals at a the PRWeek 'Taking the Drama Out of a Crisis' conference in London on Tuesday were told by The Times deputy business editor Robert Cole that 'no comment' leaves journalists 'not just free to speculate, but almost obliged to speculate'. He added: 'Such an approach may not be in your best interests.'

Sky News editorial development manager Rob Kirk said: 'A "no comment" is laden with significance in some circumstances – it can speak volumes and imply guilt.'

The conference heard Kirk say: 'The worse thing companies can do is hide or deny a crisis. That antagonises the beast – we'll go for it big time'. The Guardian executive financial editor Paul Murphy said: 'I have watched businesses implode because they have not handled crises well.'

Shell came under fire for its media relations, with more than one journalist claiming that when 'the shit hit the fan' in last year's oil-reserves fiasco, the company had little goodwill among journalists to call on, as it had done little to proactively 'get to know' reporters.

Vodafone and GlaxoSmithKline were both praised for bouncing back with proactive PR after each of their CEOs was hit by 'fat-cat' pay claims.

Mail on Sunday City news editor Andrew Leach emphasised how face-to-face contact can also influence a journalist. Of an unnamed company, he said: 'Once we had the [CEO] in front of us, it made a difference.'

Journalists also pointed to frustrations when dealing with PROs, including having their inboxes clogged by press releases with '1Mb-sized logos', and online press centres. Cole said: 'I have never come across an online press centre that works.'

Summing up crisis management, Cole said: 'Good examples of crisis management? We don't remember.'

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