In the world of public relations, silence is a double-edged sword. Silence can be, as the saying goes, golden. But it can also be deadly--a real reputation killer. So far, for Amazon's Jeff Bezos, silence is working out just fine.
President Trump recently went on a six-tweet spree railing on Bezos for how Amazon pays taxes and uses--or, Trump would say, abuses--the U.S. Postal Service. He also questioned the editorial integrity and profitability of The Washington Post, which Bezos owns. Bezos, who has been critical of Trump in the past, has said and tweeted zilch in response.
Here's why: He doesn't need to.
Bezos's reputation is solid. So far. Amazon and The Washington Post aren't being affected. Yet.
You can bet that Bezos has an army of PR pros with a slew of media tracking and headline monitoring tools that show the president's tweets and the corresponding news coverage have had a "neutral" affect on Bezos and his empire. You can be sure that if the tone in media coverage shifts to "negative," we'll be hearing from Bezos.
Does that mean that when you come under fire, silence will be your best strategy, too? Not necessarily.
It's risky either way.
Perhaps the biggest job of PR is maintaining and safeguarding reputations--companies', brands', and individuals' good names. One bad or tone deaf tweet can ruin a company's reputation, cost businesses consumers, and cost employees or spokespeople their jobs.
But staying silent is equally risky. The problem with keeping mum on an issue or outright saying "no comment" is that, often, others will fill that vacuum. Bloggers, opinion writers, and editorial boards. Network news channels. The "other side," and the its PR machine. If you don't tell your story, others will do it for you, and you might not like the results.
So how do you know what to do? Respond or stay silent? Tweet or sit on your hands?
I reached out to Amanda DeWeese, a former president of the Charlotte, North Carolina, chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, who gave me a very succinct answer: "You don't. This isn't a science."
All you or anyone in a situation like Bezos can do is hire smart, savvy PR pros, make a decision or follow a recommendation, and be nimble enough to adjust if and when the headlines demand it, DeWeese adds.
I'd be willing to bet that Bezos's PR pros have pre-written communications at the ready--and that all of the words are spelled correctly and only proper nouns are capitalized.
Know your audience.
PR is also about knowing your audience, reading the room, and having the pulse on the story or stories of the moment. Bezos's PR pros are likely discounting Trump's tweets, which have made for plentiful Saturday Night Live fodder and become a source of head shaking on both side of the political aisle.
In other words, if any other leader was attacking Bezos, it might warrant a response.
Keep in mind--as I'm sure Bezos's team has--that Amazon's chief has plenty of company when it comes to CEOs and business leaders who have been attacked by or have sparred with Trump. Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier and Disney CEO Bob Iger, among others, resigned from Trump's business advisory councils in the early days. And let's not forget Trump's public upbraiding of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who'd resigned as CEO of ExxonMobil to join the administration.
If there is one thing that's certain in the current administration, it's that nobody knows who will come under attack next. One week's tweetstorm could be destined to be old news. So seek shelter, and remember: Sometimes, silence is golden.