I advise doing almost every media interview you’re offered, but sometimes turning down an interview makes sense. This article discusses the times saying “no” is your best move.
The original list comes from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). Although it’s a solid list, the tips are overly general. I’ve added commentary to each suggestion to make them more complete.
1. Employees aren’t aware of a specific issue.
As general advice, this is fine. But if a reporter is about to run a story (with or without your input) and you can’t inform employees before it runs, it might make sense to participate in the story to ensure you provide the necessary context.
Plus, what is the “specific issue”? Announcing a new product through the press before you notify employees (e.g. the iPad) might be strategically sound, but announcing layoffs would not be.
2. Employee, client or patient privacy will be breached.
Client confidentiality might be waived if, for example, you’re subpoenaed to testify in a lawsuit or before Congress—especially if the two parties didn’t sign a confidentiality agreement.
3. An emergency occurred, and next of kin haven’t been notified.
You should not be the first party to announce a death before next of kin has been notified, but what if the media already announced the deceased person’s name? Do you confirm, or wait hours—even days—before someone notifies the family? These cases aren’t always cut and dry, and sometimes confirming the name is more humane.
4. Sensitive competitive information would be divulged.
In a reputational crisis, you might lose more by not divulging proprietary information. As in any crisis, you have to analyze all possibilities, including divulging competitive information.
5. Security legislation would be breached.
Whistleblowers aside, this is probably good advice. I assume this refers to laws already passed, not pending legislation.
6. Union negotiations are underway, and an information blackout is in effect.
If both sides honor the blackout, this is good advice. But what if one party breaks the agreement, and kills you in the press?
You should talk to the media, if not to offer specifics, at least to remind the public you’ve agreed to an information blackout and are not going to talk for that reason, but there’s more to the story than what the other side is saying.
7. Legal counsel advised against communications.
This is the one thing on this list that makes me bristle.
First, even if legal advised against “communications,” you can still communicate. You can almost always offer a generic statement such as, “We can’t offer specifics on this case since it’s in litigation, but we would like to remind everyone that there are two sides to this story, and we’re confident our side will come out in court.”
Second, legal advising against communications is often a knee-jerk reaction—even when communicating makes the most sense. Executives should consult their attorneys and communications professionals before making such decisions. Sometimes the reputational damage caused by silence is greater than the financial damage of future lawsuits.
Brad Phillips is author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared.