Part Two of D+P-er Brianna Taylor’s on the record perspective about going off the record with reporters. Click here to read Part One.
When should I go off the record?
Going off the record is kind of like wearing leather pants in that it’s only a good choice in very specific situations. Journalists typically like to keep all conversations on the record for good reason, it’s how they get their stories. But there are some circumstances where you might take a conversation off the record or go on background.
For example, you may want to provide a larger context or deeper background for the story to help the journalist understand your position, but that larger context or background may not be information you want or need attributed to you or your organization. Or, you may want to preview an idea or project that’s still under wraps that will make a current story more significant to the reporter if she can understand the bigger picture now.
These options are to be used sparingly and in good company. You should have a strong relationship with a reporter before you go down either of these paths. Keep in mind that just the act of asking to go off the record can signal to a reporter that a bigger, juicier story lies beneath the surface. If you don’t have a strong relationship with the reporter, or a public relations pro representing your best interests, you can easily get burned.
How do I go on background or off the record?
If you decide to employ one of these tools, it’s important to be upfront. You can’t take something off the record after you’ve said it. Make sure to establish the ground rules prior to starting the conversation and ensure that the reporter agrees to the terms. If you ask to go on background, discuss with the reporter what that means to her so that you are comfortable with the terms at the outset. Engaging with a public relations and communications expert will help guide you through this process.
When we discuss these options with our clients, we look at each case individually, weighing all possible outcomes. And as general rules of thumb, we always remind our clients that:
#1: Always assume you are on the record when speaking to the media.
#2: If you don’t want information in the media about a particular topic, then don’t talk about it – period.
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We are Devine + Partners, communications and content experts who specialize in public relations, issues management and digital communications.