Monday, March 29, 2010

Say Nothing

The mathematical definition of zero is X + 0 = X. The marketing definition of zero is “no comment.”

For the last few weeks I've had the great pleasure of delivering “no comment” to a great many people. Its been tough going. Marketing types like me hate to say nothing. We're genetically unequipped to keep quiet. We love the sound of our own voice. We like to expound, we revel in expressing a view. If Marketing were a author, we'd be more Henry James than Ernest Hemingway. If we were a band, we'd be Yes rather than The Ramones.

When the goal is not to score, playing the game can seem plain wrong. Over the last weeks I've learned a lot about the fine art of keeping schtum, and while I wouldn't say I'm expert I do have a few pieces of advice:
  • When you're saying nothing, less really is more
    It's very tempting to elaborate, be erudite and try and be clever. When The Famous Reporter comes calling (the same guy who usually never returns your calls), we shouldn't disappoint him, right? Wrong. Better to to be straightforward.
  • Saying nothing can take a long time
    Doing a regular interview with the press can sometimes take a very few minutes. Perversely, when the aim is to say nothing of import, the delivery time can be very long. The same question which you can't possibly answer is often asked in many different variants. Or the unanswerable question is secreted in a long, rambling monologue in the hopes that it won't be recognized. Saying nothing requires patience.
  • Nothing can sometimes mean something
    There really is no substitute for “no comment.” Anything else – even “I can't answer that question” - can be examined in minute detail and found to hint at something.
  • When you're saying nothing, be nice
    Always remember – the journalists are just doing their jobs. They have to ask. Be courteous.

It's also worth remembering that while saying nothing is generally a novel experience for most in marketing, asking clever questions to us dopes is what journalists do every day. They're really, really good at it.

No comments: