What We’re Thinking: No Comment

We’ve engaged in a spirited debate this week over this recent New York Times article on the media relations strategy of TLC’s director of public relations. In an era of transparency, does her “no comment” strategy hold up? Several of us weighed in… we’d love to get your impressions and insights!

Christi Dixon‘s take: It’s a fascinating situation… in that Ms. Goldberg is trying to MAXIMIZE the attention on television while MINIMIZING media attention elsewhere. I find it ironic that she’s so tight-lipped, but in this situation, I believe she can get away with it. TLC doesn’t have to be nice/attentive/responsive as long as the programming holds up; I would guess that she’s chosen (prioritized her role) to be a coach to help the reality stars deal with press rather than be a mouthpiece for TLC. No comment is still a really weak stance in my eyes; she could always give a line that furthered the story. (Interesting characters and innovative programming is what we’re about…) But my hunch is that she’d rather have the RUMORS fuel attention… without any “hollow” responses from the network. If the show does well on TLC, her job is done. Bottom line: I’m never a fan of no comment, but saying nothing is also a strategy to get people to tune in. After all, TLC is lifestyle programming, not news.

Nick Sargent‘s take: There’s plenty good to be said about the way Ms. Goldberg does her job. Even when she can’t go on the record with reporters, she’s still returning calls and giving them information so they can write stories. The fact that she also works with the network’s stars to prepare them for their 15 minutes of fame shows that she and TLC understand that a key component to its brand reputation is the likability of its stars. (They got heat when the public turned on Jon & Kate.) Those two things are far more valuable to a reporter than a canned quote (which will just draw ire from the reporter’s editor if he includes it in the story).   But what people will focus on is the “No Comment” part of Goldberg’s strategy. And if that’s all PR practitioners take away from this article, they’ll likely get burned. Going “off the record” and “on background” with reporters isn’t a binding contract. It’s a backscratchers’ agreement that you can get burned on at any time. At some point a reporter might decide the information you’re giving them off the record might be more valuable to print than your continued relationship. This might be an effective long-term strategy for someone who traffics in gossip mags and celebrity columns where readers don’t demand accountability; it would be a terrible strategy for businesses and politicians in an age where consumers are demanding greater transparency and accountability from their brands.

Kristin Gumper‘s take: She’s trying to get people to tune in, in order to get the scoop, which goes right along with TLC’s business strategy. As an employee of the company, she’s making a brilliant and very strategic move for the company RIGHT NOW. However, as far as her reputation in the media, she’s not doing herself any personal reputation management favors… And, she’s also not doing herself any favors for the business’ future media interaction. For instance…why would any media member give her any leeway if a life-threatening, emergency crisis occurs? They’re going to be quick to slam vs. waiting for her response. In that vein, my recommendation would be for her to comment on what she can, and give them a few tidbits, without giving away the entire story or making her real-life characters more vulnerable or less likely to trust her in the future.