We’ve all heard this term before: “Off the record.”
So, what does this mean when referring to a source that is being interviewed by a reporter, blogger or publicity writer?
Who knows! That’s the point.
“Off the record” isn’t defined universally. It doesn’t mean the same thing to different people. This is why it’s better to avoid trusting or publishing anything at all that is “off the record.”
In our publicity world, nothing is “off the record.” In the materials we write and publish, we seek and use information that can be verified by a trusted source. We don’t want rumors, we don’t want unverified information and we don’t want information from someone who isn’t willing to back it up with their name. We want facts. We want truth. We don’t deal in the business of “fake news.” Neither should you.
We often see people in the community - from politicians to actors to business leaders - facing a public relations nightmare and then being forced to seek crisis PR services because they said something they thought was “off the record” but wasn’t, and it wound up on the front page.
Here are four “best practices” interview tips:
1. Don’t go “off the record.” If an interviewer asks you something that is “off the record,” respond by saying it’s your personal policy not to discuss anything “off the record.” Stick to this no matter how hard they may try to pry “off the record” material from you. And, don’t offer up any information that you want kept secret or that you think is “off the record.”
2. Never say anything you don’t want published or you don’t want other people to hear or read. Remember that you are being interviewed for the media or a public relations company, and what you say is being written down with the intent that it’s fair game for publication. A blogger or reporter may not publish the information at all, they may publish the information and not use your name, or they might publish the information and find other sources to support it. Overall, for the source, it’s better to avoid the risk and steer clear of questionable material.
3. Be prepared. Know the topic of the interview in advance and have at least five talking points ready before stepping into your interview. Keep in mind that you were invited for an interview because people want to learn about you, your skills and services, so be organized and share what’s important. Don’t ramble off on tangents.
4. Be conscious of your interviewer’s language. Pay attention to where your interviewer is leading a conversation and whether their language is controversial or a question is inviting a controversial response. It is common to want to please the interviewer and give a great interview, but make sure not to agree or repeat any negative statements, insults or controversial language that they use, because you could be trapped into being perceived as agreeing with it and saying it too. A great interview is about showcasing your talents and sharing the information that you want published – without wrecking your reputation.