In an episode of The Partridge Family, the 1970s TV sitcom about a musical family, band manager Reuben Kincaid tells the family, “I do know how to handle myself with the press.” The family sits down with Reuben and watches on TV how reporters ambushed him in a parking lot about a sensational magazine article on the family. One of the kids, Danny, supplied the magazine false stories to help publicize the family and Reuben didn’t know about it.
A reporter asked, “How much truth is there in the recent article concerning Shirley Partridge?” Reuben responded, “Article? What article?”
The oldest kid, Keith, watching this on TV, mocks Reuben as being a real pro. Reuben tells him, “I know how to protect my clients.”
Back on TV, the reporter told Reuben the magazine article claims Shirley once ran a school for exotic dancers. At least three microphones were in his face. Reuben snapped back, “You’re kidding! No comment.” The reporter followed up explaining the article also points out Shirley can’t resist men with beards. Reuben began to respond, “I never knew … No comment.”
Shirley, stunned, stands up from the couch and can’t believe Reuben offered a “no comment,” saying Reuben inadvertently made the false information sound true.
Believe it or not, real life often imitates art minus the laugh track, except the people laughing are viewers at home. It is not uncommon for reporters to ambush people in parking lots or outside offices. And frequently those people provide “no comment,” walking or driving away in disgust, providing the exact sensational shot some media want to air.
When reporters catch you by surprise, take a breath and respond, “I don’t have that information at this time. I will be happy to check into it and speak with the appropriate person and get back to you.” Don’t be afraid to explain you don’t have the answer at that very moment. You are not a walking encyclopedia or in today’s terms, a walking Wikipedia. The quickest way to land yourself in trouble is to provide answers when you don’t have them.
Another lesson is the mistake of providing “no comment.” Some of the world’s biggest businesses that we assume hire top marketing people continue to provide media outlets with “no comment” on a regular basis. As Shirley Partridge points out, “no comment,” fair or not, often indicates the claims might be true. There’s always something better to say than “no comment,” even if your words are simply, “Our policy is not to discuss those details publicly, but what I can tell you …”
The media have changed a lot since the early 1970s. But how people respond to them has not. And the results are often no laughing matter.