“No comment” pretty much means you’re guilty

23219283 Most people believe a company is guilty of the accusation when a company official says "no comment." Robin Cohn’s book, The PR Crisis Bible tells a story that really illustrates this point.

One day a CEO heard someone behind him say, "Excuse me." Turning around, he recognized a well-known business reporter who said, "I just have one question."

The CEO panicked.  "No comment," he replied and hurried away from the reporter.

Since Watergate, those two words have come to mean that the speaker has something to hide. 

The reporter, who was just trying to figure out how to find someone that he had an appointment with, began to wonder what was going on at the company and started working the phones.  He found a disgruntled employee and looked for dirt on the Web.  He ended up writing an expose of problems at the company and stock price plunged.

What should you say instead of no comment?   Try the truth.  Even if part of the truth is "we don’t have all the answers yet," or "our attorneys have asked us not to discuss that part of the lawsuit."

Be candid.  Share what you can.  And be frank about what you aren’t at liberty to say.  But stonewalling doesn’t cut it today.

Whether it’s true or not, the public and the media believe they have a right to know just about everything.  And a "no comment" brands you as guilty long before you’ve had a chance to prove otherwise.

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8 comments on ““No comment” pretty much means you’re guilty

  1. Ouch!

    Great example, but that had to hurt.

    Finding the balance between when to be quiet and when to be transparent has to be difficult for companies. I don’t envy that exec though!

  2. Michelle,

    You’re right — it’s a fine line. But there is probably always a better answer than “no comment.”

    Or else, get an underground garage for execs! 🙂


  3. Eamon says:


    APOLOGIES for not replying to you sooner (problem with email), and to say THANK YOU for your email from earlier on this month, and for your time and effort.

    I am going to action now.

    Thank you very much again, Eamon (Spotlight Ideas).

  4. Drew, you point out why companies today need to be upfront. People like honesty… the opposite is why our nation has plummeted so far.

  5. ann marie says:

    did we learn nothing from the mccarthy hearings? or nixon…no comment…i am not a crook……can’t we all just be honest with each other and get along?
    take action be human and i am not a pollyanna for those of you old enough to know who she was—and ps i am not drew’s mother!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!just someone who loved his social media seminar

  6. Robyn,

    Very true…we as a nation grow weary of the spin and lies. But…I think there’s a very fine line. We as a nation also think we have the right to know everything. I don’t think that’s any healthier than the lying era.

    I wonder if we will ever find a sane middle ground?


  7. Hey Melody,

    There are some interesting envelope designs/ideas here: http://tinyurl.com/5nwmw9


  8. Ann Marie,

    That’s the best ad I’ve ever done for my social media workshops! Thank you.

    You’re right of course…the era of politicians lying and subterfuge being masked as truth certainly triggered our hunger “to know.”

    But, how do you think we find the balance? Or do you believe we have a right to know everything?


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