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In this week’s bulletin, Charlie discusses the positives and potential drawbacks of keeping silent after an incident, and looks at when we could consider silence as an effective response strategy.

There are many instances when saying ‘no comment’ and not engaging with stakeholders can be seen as crassness. It can imply that you have something to hide and might be part of a cover-up. There are multiple cases of organisations keeping quiet when they should be putting out a statement and engaging with those who are criticising the organisation. This may be to rebut accusations, defend themselves, admit a mistake, or offer an apology. The response to the recent Bud Light controversy, which involved using the transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney to promote the brand, by AB InBev, has been poor in their initial reaction. They have failed to address their customers’ concerns and provide a robust narrative. 

In other instances, organisations may choose not to draw attention to an incident they are experiencing, especially if it could be embarrassing, damage their reputation, or benefit a competitor. In such cases, a media strategy of silence may be considered. The use of silence should always be carefully considered, and whatever strategy is chosen must be appropriate for the situation at hand.

There are several situations where silence could be a good strategy to consider:

  1. When there is a very busy news schedule, your story might be drowned out by other news items, or your incident might not receive attention due to extensive coverage of other events –  like the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. When you can rely on your customers or brand loyalists to defend your brand, which can be more powerful than you defending it yourself.
  3. When you can use non-public channels to engage directly with stakeholders and address their concerns individually. This approach allows you to handle the conversation privately, limiting the information available to journalists and others.
  4. When you choose silence as a strategy but you have your media responses ready to be deployed through appropriate channels if the story gains significant attention and requires a response.
  5. When you can use confidentiality and ongoing criminal investigations as reasons for providing limited information.

By offering limited information or declining to comment on an incident, you deprive journalists and commentators of new material to discuss. Without fresh information, they quickly shift their focus to other topics and incidents to comment on. While media training and trainers might advise against using silence as a strategy, I believe that as business communication practitioners advising crisis management teams, we should encourage them to consider it as a valid approach.

To view Charlie’s webinar with the BCI on whether silence be used as a crisis communications strategy, please click here. Please note, access to this webinar is for BCI members only.

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