How to Handle a Negative Story
I would like to recommend, for all you budding political hacks and flacks out there, this blog post on how to deal with negative press from Potomac Flacks.
One thing I absolutely agree with is that you should always respond to the press in some fashion.
There has been only one occasion in my career when I have responded to a call about a negative story with “no comment” – and that was that elected official’s decision and it went contrary to my advice (I have used “no comment” on certain issue stories where it wasn’t a good idea for my client to be dragged into a particular issue, but that is different from dealing with a story directly about your client).
I would also add the need to be very careful and very clear about what is “on the record,” “off the record,” and “on background.” Speaking on background can be tricky, too – think about what you want to be attributed as. If you don’t tell them, they can say “a senior adviser with Candidate X said…” and if that happens, you might as well have given out your name and home phone number. It’s important to say something like “on background as a local Democratic consultant.”
Finally, even if you respond, you don’t have to respond at the exact moment a reporter calls you.
The two most important phrases any flack needs are “what is your deadline?” and “can I get back to you?” Use them often.