September 24, 2015
“Don’t quote me on that.”
That phrase will make any public relations professional cringe in agony. It means a spokesman has just shared information or an opinion with a reporter he should not have shared. It also means the PR advisor has failed in their duty to properly prepare the spokesman for an interview by setting and clearly explaining the ground rules.
There’s a saying that sums up everything you need to know about an interview: The microphone is always on. If you conduct an interview with the understanding that everything you say may be quoted and attributed to you, you should be able to avoid pitfalls.
However, there are cases where it may be necessary to provide a reporter with information or analysis without attribution. It’s absolutely vital that the ground rules for this kind of interview be set in advance and clearly understood by all parties involved.
Confusion about these ground rules — whether an interview is on the record, off the record or on background — has contributed to countless awkward situations for political figures and business leaders. But the consequences can go far beyond awkwardness. Failure to understand the fundamentals of the media and what it means to be on or off the record lead to situations where you damage your reputation and put your organization at legal or financial risk.
Here’s a guide to the three primary arrangements that govern how a reporter may use the information given in an interview.