Crisis Communications - Public Relations - Strategic Marketing

When is "off the record"​ REALLY "off the record?"​​

Recently, two high-profile Washington officials claimed that their controversial interviews were “off the record.” The term is confusing because there is no common definition of the term. To some people it means that you can utilize the information you received but without attribution. The other common definition is that the information cannot be reported or attributed, but is being provided for guidance or to clarify an issue. “Off the record” comments can be helpful but only if you fully understand the process as well as the legal implications.

Rule One: Any agreement comes before the interview or statement.

Rule Two: You and the reporter clearly define the meaning of the term or use other terms to clarify your agreement.

Rule Three: This type of agreement works best when you know and trust the journalist, and will have contact with them in the future. For example, a beat or trade journal reporter. No journalist wants to burn a dependable news source on a topic, business or government agency they need to cover in the future.  

Rule Four: There is nothing to prevent an attorney from asking you under oath what you told somebody. Saying it was “off the record” is not protection from a subpoena, deposition or courtroom testimony.

Unless you have a great deal of personal experience or excellent PR and legal counsel the best strategy is to avoid using “off the record” comments. There are many other ways of helping journalists receive information that is significant to supporting your position on an issue.

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