The words “no comment” have a bad reputation. For many, the words mean “guilty.”

When you say “no comment,” a reporter immediately gets suspicious. “Why can’t she comment? Is there a legal reason? Maybe there is a lawsuit? A pending deal?” Neurons in the reporter’s brain begin to spin.

Yet the reality is there are a lot of topics you may not want to discuss or be quoted about. Some compliance departments will never let investment professionals discuss individual stocks or investments. Or maybe you are not an expert on a subject and simply feel uncomfortable being quoted.

There are many ways to decline commenting without saying “no comment.” Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you are not an expert or are uncomfortable commenting on a subject, say so. “I am not the best person to address that question. Let me refer you to someone else.”
  • If you can’t comment for compliance reasons, tell the reporter. “I will need to run this one by our compliance team, and they rarely let me comment on individual securities.”
  • If you are anticipating news that is not yet announced, tell the reporter you need to take a pass. “I wish I could help you out on this story, but I have to take a pass this time. I hope I can help out next time.”
  • Ask the reporter if you can provide information on background and not be quoted for attribution. Make sure the reporter agrees to go “off the record” before offering any background. We recommend that you go “off the record” sparingly. Reporters need named sources for their stories and they’ll stop calling you if you are unwilling to be quoted. But this is an option if you don’t want to be quoted but want to make sure a reporter gets a story right or want to maintain your good relationship with a reporter. The caveat here is that “going off the record” or providing information on background cannot be used as a way to get around compliance rules. If legal says you can’t talk about a subject, you mustn’t even talk on background.
  • If there is a pending lawsuit or legal reason why you can’t comment, politely decline. “It would be inappropriate for me to comment given the pending legal matter.” Refer the reporter to a company statement or other public information that may be helpful.

We find a lot of people avoid commenting by simply not returning a phone call. We don’t think this is a good strategy. An alternative is to ask your communications department staff to leave a message or send a quick email to decline the interview.