Media Training Tip #2 “Off the Record…I think Not!”

Nothing is 100% off the record. Once notes are made, editors, publishers and yes even lawyers can look at them. This goes for all appearances, not just interviews. Whatever you say — anywhere — can follow you around endlessly and perhaps disastrously. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Then later on, be certain to get back to the reporter with an answer.

The best example I can share is when a former CEO I worked with thought he had a great friendship with a local beat reporter.  The two of them had know each other for years.  In the area this particular reporter has a reputation as a hard-hitting ,deep-digging reporter.  This CEO felt as though he could control the reporter by saying things he should not have said but prefacing them with, “Well Matt this is strictly off  the record“.  The next morning the headline that ran cost the company not only sales but community support.   Did Matt quote the CEO with “Off the Record” material…NO. BUT that information was weaved into the story so much that when the headline copy editor read the story he actually pulled out the “Off the Record” deatails and unknowingly formed the lead headline.  Yep main headline front page and above the fold, not to mention in blogs, across internet sites and yes even in the email in boxes to the CEO’s board of trustees….OUCH!

The very sad part of that case study proved to be that the CEO did not learn his lesson. He continues to this day to spout off to the media with no prior planning or forming of message.  He’s even removed his PR staff completely.

Lesson to this story be responsible for your words.  Even if the report tries to sway you into talking “Off the Record” stand your ground.  Think of what tomorrow’s headline might say…