Dealing Honestly With Media When Your Client Doesn’t Want To Say Anything

By Vicky Hastings, APR
@vickyhastings

Why is it hard for some organizations to be transparent with media?

Honesty is always the best policy, as everyone knows. Not only do consumers prefer brands that are truthful, the PRSA Code of Ethics calls for it.

Many of us have faced situations in which an employer or client doesn’t want to comment on a controversial topic when queried by media. You, too, may be tapped to “keep us out of this story.”

What’s a PR practitioner to do?

If it’s a legal or personnel issue, and your organization has a policy of not publicly commenting such matters, you can say that with complete integrity.

But in other cases, it’s more complicated. Saying “no comment” is a comment it itself − one your client may not want to see when published.

Here are some alternatives:

  • Advocate for transparency so the organization can shape the outcome rather than allowing others to manage the message.
  • Be ready with a pre-approved reactive statement to be shared only when asked by media.
  • Advise that if the company is addressing the issue on social media, those comments may be included in the media story because reporters gather information everywhere. When asked by media for a for a point of view, share the social statement.
  • If leadership is unwilling to go on record after you’ve recommended taking the interview, authentically decline. You can tell the journalist “no one is available to comment” or “sorry, but we are unable to participate in this opportunity.”
  • Remind your client that they came to you to build visibility and they’re being giving an opportunity to share their point of view. Perhaps over time they’ll become more comfortable publicly taking a stand.

When unsure what to do, turn to the Code of Ethics for guidance on ethical practices. Honesty and integrity are among a successful PR practitioner’s most important assets.

Ethics and decision-making go hand in hand. Next time you’re challenged with making a tough choice at work, consider the six core values in PRSA’s Code of Ethics: Advocacy, Honesty, Expertise, Independence, Loyalty and Fairness. This is the second entry in a six-part blog series spotlighting these values.

 

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