Sadly, the practice got an “attaboy” last month in a blog headlined, “Why a Brand Not Responding Is Sometimes the Best Response.” While the writer didn’t promote so-called “strategic silence” in all cases, she did suggest topics to which it might apply: legal and regulatory issues, personnel matters, financial transactions, and times when you can’t keep up with the volume of calls.
I’ve blogged on this issue before. Then, as now, I consider the behavior lousy and cowardly PR.
What drives “strategic silence” is not strategy, but an assumption. The assumption is that the news media owe their livelihood to PR people: We provide content so they can report it; therefore, what we don’t provide isn’t worth covering.
That assumption is false. Yes, we represent our clients and their interests. Part of promoting our clients is working with news media to gain coverage, or to do our best to get our clients’ voices heard in good times and bad. But accomplishing this isn’t a one-way process. Public relations and media relations are … wait for it … relational.
That means understanding what reporters need. That means knowing what interests their audience. That means being as responsive and as transparent as possible. That means your client (or your client through you) speaking for themselves—because if they don’t, others will do it for them. When we’re relational, we build trust and strengthen the client’s brand.
Are there times when you must limit your comments, such as the examples the blogger cites? Of course. But there’s a big difference between restricting your comments and ignoring the ask. Even a simple “we can’t comment on pending litigation” respects the reporter, the news outlet, the relationship and the audience.
The only example on which I’ll reluctantly agree with the blogger is capacity—when you can’t keep up with the queries. That’s happened in my experience, albeit rarely. When I couldn’t tap coworkers to help, I had to prioritize media callbacks and do what I could as quickly and thoroughly as possible. But that’s a far cry from deliberately tossing a pink “While You Were Out” slip or hitting “Delete” on voicemail.
In short, the news media don’t owe us coverage. We have to earn it by building trust, by understanding what they need, and by being responsive. There’s no excuse for deliberately going silent. It’s guaranteed to hurt your relationship with reporters and their audience—and ultimately damage your brand.
In the practice of public relations, silence isn’t golden.