You're 'Unavailable'? Then Who Just Updated Your Status?

Inquiries From Media Require More-Imaginative Excuses

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We live in an era when people find time during the business day to tell one another what they've just put in their coffee, yet it's still possible for an executive to be "unavailable for comment" in a news story.
Questions to Ask About:
Corporate Communications
Dialogue: What responses will your response prompt?
Support: Are there audiences who will speak up based on your comments?
Relevance: Can you find a way to say something more than "no comment"?

I find this intriguing in a quaint sort of way. It's like saying, "Sorry, he's buttoning his spats" or "Sorry, she can't come to the phone; she's busy sorting punch cards."

I think corporate communicators need to invent a better excuse, or perhaps altogether revise their approach to unwanted inquiries from the media.

"He or she is traveling" is the most commonly used lie, even though traveling prompts most of the people I know to communicate far too much. Otherwise busy execs tweet or text comments about bad hairdos, and their updates on Facebook are about as interesting as the drone of a refrigerator. (Calling this constant contact "ambient intimacy" doesn't make it any less unrelentingly irrelevant, however cool it might feel.)

So it's just weird that when it comes to reacting to a question about business -- proof positive that at least one other person is actively interested in knowing what they're doing -- those very same road warriors can claim to be incommunicado, at least on the record.
Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin is the author of "Branding Only Works on Cattle" and blogs about marketing at Dim Bulb.

What does "on the record" mean anyway? It's an archaic idea. Today's social mediaverse means every tidbit of content gets captured online by somebody, with or without veracity or attribution. To paraphrase Tom Friedman, the world is hot, flat and noisy. Nothing is off the record.

There is no such thing as a corporate statement anymore either. A comment one minute is a mutated meme the next, cascading through an adaptive web that is equal parts collective hallucination and alimentary canal. These tidbits are generated in real time, at every level of your organization, as well as by any number of sources beyond the confines of your corporate rules and standards.

So while you're "unavailable" to comment because you don't want to say anything, you're still saying something. Some junior staffer in a department you've never heard of probably has a lot to say, and also just posted an illustrative photo montage on Flickr. A dozen other sites are already riffing on it, and your team is coming up with the right adjectives to capture the brand essence for your riposte. Meanwhile, you're busy checking the status of your seat upgrade.

The better, more credible reply to a question you don't want to answer is simple: "No comment." It's not really important what your public-relations people put in quotes now. It's more crucial that you (and your fellow C-suite leaders) grasp the context of the continuing conversation. It's getting recast before the disappointed reporter hangs up the phone.

And you're probably going to have to say something else in about five minutes.
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