off the record
1. not made as an official or attributed statement.
synonyms: unofficial, confidential, in (strict) confidence, not to be made public except it might be, and a defense of “but they said this was off the record!” won’t hold up in client court.
When reaching out to media with your news, you may get asked to coordinate an interview with a reporter and your client. While this is a great opportunity to build awareness for the brand, it’s important to remember that everything said during an interview is “on the record” and can be used by the reporter.
There will be times when you have to media train a client for an interview. There will be times when your client feels so confident and comfortable with interviews that they think all reporters are their friend. There will be times when your client thinks that whatever they say is only between them and they reporter, so they speak “off the record.” There are times to believe that a conversation is off the record, but an interview is never that time.
During an interview, it’s always best to assume that nothing is off the record. While I’m certainly not advocating lying, or implying that reporters aren’t trustworthy, but better to err on the side of caution. When media training your client, encourage them to be friendly and confident, but most importantly to be aware of what they are saying.
In addition to the reminder that what your client say to a reporter can and will be held against them in the court of publicity, below are few other interview tips we can all use as a refresher:
- Know the types of questions the reporter is going to ask and/or the story angle in advance.
- If you’re unfamiliar with the reporter, research the type of stories he or she typically covers, also known as their “beat.”
- Think through the key points you want to make in the interview and consider writing them down beforehand. Keep key facts and messages in front of you and refer to them when appropriate.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Don’t feel like you need to make something up and please do not provide false information. It’s better to say, “I don’t have the answer to that question, but I will put you in touch with the appropriate person who can help.”
- Be concise, but avoid one-word answers. Be simple and concrete. Use short sentences, active verbs and simple language.
- Do not feel you have to fill an embarrassing silence; that is the interviewer’s job. Once you have answered the question, stop and wait for the next question.
- Stay on your toes — literally! More than 95 percent of all media interviews are over the telephone. Stand up while doing the interview by phone. This makes you more conscious that you are talking to a reporter — not a business colleague or friend.