15 September 2017

Working Words: When to comment

The sixth instalment in our 'Working Words' advice series offers two minutes on how to decide when to comment...

The statement: "there's no such thing as bad publicity" is often associated with Phineas T. Barnum, the 19th century American showman and circus owner. Away from the circus, however, there are certainly occasions when publicity could do more harm than good for your reputation.

Whether a journalist has contacted you directly about an opportunity, or whether you want to seize on a piece of news, it's important to ask yourself whether getting coverage on this issue adds value. Does it reach your intended audience? Or could your association with that story negatively affect your reputation?

Think very carefully about providing commentary if:

You don't have insight to share - The best comments add value and something new or different to what others are saying.

You don't know about the issue or aren't familiar with the topic - Being caught out by a journalist for not knowing details won't do your standing with them any help in the long run

The particular publication doesn't reach your target or current audiences - It's important to ask yourself if it would be the best use of your time or whether it would be better to focus efforts on publicity that will reach your target audience

You suspect that the journalist doesn't have a good grasp of the topic or may wrongly interpret your information

The topic or angle of the piece risks presenting your business in a negative light through misunderstanding of your work or approach

There's a chance your comments will touch on sensitivities with client work, both past and present

It is worth seeking professional PR advice if these more complex conditions apply to the opportunity:

When your decision to comment might feel insensitive to the groups involved, to your clients or potential clients

Where it is an active, and contentious, client matter - or where there is a risk of your comments jeopardising a case, breaking the law (libel/slander) or affecting an ongoing investigation

Where it would it be seen as taking advantage of a sad or unsavoury situation in order to sell a product or service

When the comment could be perceived as 'ambulance chasing'

When the newsbreak or opportunity involves death, disaster, accident or exploitation

Being prepared to respond quickly to requests for comment under the right circumstances and on appropriate topics can be a great tool for increasing recognition of your business - but make sure you consider each opportunity carefully up front, so you and your business steer clear of bad publicity.