When a Statement Makes the Wrong Statement

In the world of public relations and marketing communications two time-worn (and, I would argue, ‘worn out’) tools are the press release and the written statement. Both are issued publicly, typically relayed via media and online platforms and both, while written, can oftentimes speak unintended volumes about those who release them. For the purpose of this blog, I want to briefly examine the statement.

Typically, a statement is, for all intents and purposes, a “quote in writing,” provided to a news outlet looking for a response to a story being prepared. Where it is most appropriately utilized is in instances where litigation or the threat thereof makes it prudent to not go in front of a camera or microphone. In every case its use is preferable to a “no comment” (never!) or “unable to be reached for comment.”

Yet, I would argue that in most instances, a company or organization can always find an appropriate spokesperson to “orally” say something. I recently came across a local high-profile news story where the topic was only mildly controversial and no litigation lay in wait. Still, the company chose to issue a statement (reported as coming from their PR firm) to provide their perspective on the issue. Why the head of this company chose (or was counseled) to not go on camera or speak directly to writers and reporters is unclear. 

The bottom line is this: In seeking to manage messages, affect opinion and/or reassure particular audiences, it is almost always preferable that a company  goes on the record and speaks for itself. Just as studies have shown that ‘no comment’ is perceived as denoting guilt or wrong-doing, using statements in lieu of interpersonal communication does nothing to build media relationships or the public trust. Why are they hiding behind a statement, many will ask. For some communications firms, moreover, statements can become a crutch that unwittingly usurp the openness and transparency publicly communicating is looking to underscore.

Then, what’s the point?  Which is exactly my point.