I can think of no two worse words in PR than “no comment.” You might as well say “guilty as charged,” because that is how that phrase is most often interpreted. The phrase “no comment” is legalistic and should have no place in the PR lexicon.
Yet, just last week, GOP presidential candidate (and former Speaker of the House) Newt Gingrich uttered these two incriminatory words in response to questions about his personal finances, which include a reported half-million-dollar debt to Tiffany & Co. For a man who has been in politics for more than 30 years, he should have known better than to use “no comment.” People who use “no comment” use it because it’s what they have seen on TV and in the movies; not those who have had PR pros directing they’re every professional move since 1978!
When dealing with hostile or negative questions, it’s best to remain calm and keep your answers short. So to help Gingrich (and others), I’ve compiled a list of 5 better phrases than “no comment”:
1. I don’t have anything to say
2. That’s not what I’m here to discuss
3. I’m unable to talk about that (Use this only if legal counsel has told you not to comment, otherwise you can be pegged as a liar which is almost just as bad as using “no comment”.)
4. No (If asked a direct question that is untrue, simply reply “no”. For example, “Newt, isn’t it true that you owe more than a million dollars to Tiffany’s?” or “Newt do you want to comment about your Tiffany debt?” Note: when a reporter asks “do you have a comment…” they are often baiting a person into saying “no comment.”)
5. Smile and say nothing (while not a phrase, this is always the best option. Remember, the media cannot repeat what you do not say.)
What do you think? Is there ever a good time to say “no comment?” Do you have a suggestion for another alternative?