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Google and Apple: The No Comment Defense

It is no secret that Google and Apple have historically established unethically sound agreements not to poach each other’s employees. Back in 2010 theses agreements even garnered attention from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The incident, however appears to be more extensive. Pando’s Mark Ames has released a new batch of emails from a number of high-ranking Google and Apple administrators. The emails suggest that a number companies (including Google, Apple, Intel, Dell, Microsoft, and Oracle) were attempting to fix employment in the technology industry.

There is little doubt that this story will gain significant media attention in the weeks to follow. However, Pando states that a number of companies highlighted in the article (AMD, AOL, Cingular/AT&T, Dell, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc.) either declined to comment on the story or have not responded to inquires.

This lack of response offers an unfortunate opportunity to discuss the negative impact of offering “no comment” in a crisis situation.

“No Comment”

Undoubtedly this is a major crisis communication situation. I am sure that all the organizations involved are evaluating the most effective response, but the story explicitly identified those organizations that did and did not comment. By simply identifying these organizations the story is indirectly stating which organizations are more open to the media and the public.

Declining to comment or stating “no comment” is rarely a good strategy in a crisis situation. However, it is commonly the result of diverging perspectives between legal council and public relations. Public relation practitioners in an advisory role often recommend early and open responses to a crisis situation.

If an organization does undertake the “no comment” defense, it is frequently perceived as hiding something. It damages an organization’s reputation and alienates both the media and the public.

Strategic Silence

On the other hand, an organization can decide to undertake “strategic silence”. Engaging in strategic silence can often decrease the life span of a crisis and/or provide the organization with extra time to construct an appropriate response.

A strategic silence relies heavily on the assumption that the media and stakeholders perceive the silence as positive. If facts are unknown or the safety of individuals is at risk the public may be more willing to accept the silence. For example, a number of organizations are adopting the strategic silence strategy with the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crisis.

The organization will also have to rely on its social capital and reputation to orchestra this strategy. A good public image, positive reputation and excellent media relations will greatly asset an organization in instigating a strategic silence strategy.

Finally, a strategic silence does not mean no communication (i.e., no comment). Instead the organization needs to issue a public statement as to why it will address the issue publicly in the future.

Things to Come

It will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds in the weeks to come. The companies who initially issued a “no comment” defense may quickly adopt the strategic silence strategy and issue a follow-up response.


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