How talking too much causes a PR crisis

Media interviews can quickly go off the rails if your spokesperson doesn’t know when to stop talking. Here are some tips to avoid letting loose lips sink your media strategy.

Some people just don’t know when to stop talking.

Lately, there seems to be no shortage of folks who seem hell-bent on creating a crisis for themselves, simply because they seem not to know when to be quiet.

In the past month, we’ve seen several examples of public figures who would’ve benefitted from talking a little less. Now they’re are embroiled in crises of their own making.

Here are some lessons to be learned and media interview tips to avoid starting your own PR crisis:

1. Remember that you’re on the record.

Actor Liam Neeson was heard in an interview talking about thoughts of “violent racism” he had many years ago after someone close to him was assaulted. Of course, there was an immediate backlash from many who were outraged by his remarks.

Now, it’s not Neeson’s first time talking to a reporter. He should know better. Neeson isn’t a controversial figure—or at least he wasn’t. It wasn’t “brave,” as some suggest, for him to open up about this. It served no purpose, other than stirring up unnecessary controversy.

Lesson: If you need to unload, don’t do it in an interview with a journalist.

2. Just because you know it doesn’t mean you need to share it.

When you’re speaking with a journalist, that doesn’t mean you need to disclose everything. Answer the questions you’re asked and volunteer information if and when it makes sense to do so.

If it adds to the message you’re trying to convey, then talk about it. However, if you’re just talking to hear yourself talk with no goal in mind, you may end up doing more harm than good. Recent examples include Neeson’s interview, of course, but also acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker.

If no one asked a question, think carefully before volunteering information that may be damaging to you.

Lesson: If in doubt that it adds anything, don’t say it.

3. If you’ve apologized, move on.

Virginia governor Ralph Northam was caught in a scandal after news broke that a racist photo of him appeared in his medical school yearbook.  He issued an apology, which experts agree is one of the best ways to mitigate a crisis. However, the next day he was at it again, retracting his apology and denying it was him in the photo. (Watch his cringey press conference for more lessons on what not to do here.)

Many believe that had he just let it go at the apology, the controversy would’ve died down. Fanning the flames is never a good idea. Now it’s just a full-on disaster that will most likely end in his resignation.

Lesson: Backtracking only weakens what you’ve already said. If you’ve apologized appropriately, it’s best to move on.

When you haven’t said enough

There are exceptions to every rule, and not saying enough can be just as damaging. Here’s one example:

4. If you’re asked to comment, do it.

Recently I heard about an organization that created a crisis for itself because, when a reporter contacted them for a quote, they refused to provide it, stating they weren’t “ready” to comment. Though this may have made sense in the moment, they needed to understand that it’s better to prepare a response now than to sit the opportunity out. By declining, they’d still need to respond later – and by then, they might have a full-blown crisis on their hands.

Lesson:  If a story breaks and your organization isn’t “ready” to comment, you’d better get ready. Otherwise, the journalist will move on to publish the story without your perspective.

The next time you have a spokesperson preparing for an interview, be sure to share these media interview tips and remind them that it’s OK to stop talking when they’ve answered a question. Less can be more when it comes to speaking on the record.

Michelle Garrett is a PR consultant and writer at Garrett Public Relations. Follow her on Twitter @PRisUs or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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