Telling a reporter portions of your conversation are off the record midway through your interview is not a get out of jail free card to retract something you wish you hadn’t said.
Going off the record or providing information on background is a carefully calculated strategic move, and one that can involve risk to you and your organization’s reputation. It’s important to have already developed a relationship of trust and mutual respect with a reporter before even suggesting going off the record.
Further, it’s important to ensure all involved parties—the reporter, his or her editor, you and your superiors— all understand the specific terms of your agreement before sitting down for the interview.
If you want the conversation to be off the record, make sure that the reporter agrees and understands in advance what information you do not want attributed to you or your organization.
Below are standard definitions for the various terms of media engagement. Note that it’s still important to verify that you and the reporter both agree to the terms of confidentiality pertaining to your conversation.
Off the Record—Your conversation with the journalist should not be used in their story. The intention is provide background information that cannot be attributed to you.
On the Record—Unless you agree otherwise, assume everything you say is on the record and can be attributed to you—even when the cameras stop rolling.
On Background—Any background information you provide can be used, but you as the source cannot be named or quoted. Know the reporter might mention in their story that an insider associated with your organization provided the information.
Not for Attribution—Your words can be quoted, but you as the spokesperson should not be named.
We advise our clients to treat every conversation with the news media as “on the record.” We believe in forthright communication and organizational transparency as the most effective strategies to prevent and mitigate crisis.
If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of stepping into the media spot, Madeira Public Relations offers a host of individually tailored training programs to ready you and your team for success.