Why ‘Off The Record’ Doesn’t Exist

If your PR agency tells you otherwise you need to fire them and find a company that understands how things work.  There is one golden rule for anybody talking with the press – if you don’t want it to be published or broadcast then don’t say it!  It’ that simple.

Every media briefing document I write has an interview ‘tips and tricks’ page at the back designed to help interviewees navigate the experience.  It gets included in every document – even when it’s a client I’ve worked with for years.

The first – and last – point I make is that, ‘there is no such thing as Off The Record’.  I’ve had colleagues and clients pick me up for it many times – because it’s in the document twice they assume it’s a typo.  They’re often confused when I explain that I make the point twice because it’s important.  However, it’s protected many a client from an embarrassing gaffe – and has also saved few from being fired!

If you tell a journalist something ‘off the record’ because you don’t want them to publish it you’re relying on your personal relationship either you, or your PR has with them, and good will on their part, rather than any established principle.  If they decide at a later date – while they are writing the story, for example – that something you said is actually quite an interesting story then they can, and will, use it.  It’s often misunderstood that journalists have complete editorial control over the stories that are published in their byline.  Once a story is written however, it’s often passed to sub-editors, category editors and the Editor-in-Chief.  They ask for clarification or evidence to be added to support statements made in a story.  If the information has been provided ‘off the record’, even though a journalist may want to keep their promise, their bosses may not be quite as keen to do so.

Telling a journalist anything ‘off the record’ is ALWAYS a dangerous strategy, which I wouldn’t ever advocate. While it might work 99 times out of 100 when it goes wrong it tends to go SERIOUSLY wrong.

If your PR rep tells you otherwise I’d recommend you start looking for another firm.  Your reputation, or that of your CEO, could depend on it.