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by Al Rothstein

"I made that statement off-the-record, but somehow it found its way onto the 6:00 news." This is one of the biggest fears people have when dealing with reporters.

The easiest way to solve this problem is by never going off-the-record. From a reporter's standpoint, anything you say is fair game.

However, many media-savvy people use off-the-record as a tool to enhance their relationship and credibility with the news media.

It's important to know the rules, because no mattter how media-savvy you are, the reporter always has the upper hand when you make an off-the-record statement.

Have you ever done a television interview and thought it was over when the camera was turned off? Did you assume that whatever you said after that is off-the-record? It just doesn't work that way. In fact, I know some reporters who get their best quotes that way.

…the reporter always has the upper hand when you make an off-the-record statement.

Rule No. 1 - The camera is never off, even after the interview.

Have you ever said something to a reporter that you immediately regretted and then said, "By the way, that was off-the-record." Wrong again!

Rule No. 2 - An attempt to go off-the-record after you've made the statement usually doesn't work.

Have you ever said, "This is off-the-record" before you made a statement, but never made clear when you were back on-the-record? This can confuse the reporter and cause some embarassing public quotes.

Rule No. 3 - Make it clear wehen you are back on the record.

Have you ever really asked a reporter what he or she meant by off-the-record?

Rule No. 4 - Make sure you both mean the same thing!

What if you don't really know the reporter or if you have any doubt at all?

Rule No. 5 - When in doubt, don't even think about going off-the-record.

As a media consultant, the safest thing for me to tell you would be to never go off-the-record. This is indeed the best rule when there is any doubt.

The disadvantages of making an off-the-record comment can far outweigh the advantages. You may know someone who has gottent in trouble for trying it.

If you do go off-the-record, the above guidelines can save you some headaches. It can even save your reputation.

Courtesy of Al Rothstein Media Services, Inc.,
specialists in spokesperson training and media relations seminars.
Phone: (904) 262-2606

See also:

Getting the Most from Interviews
Guidelines for successful interviews
After the interview
Backing it Up
Involve Your Audience During TV Interviews
Oh, the Mistakes Spokespeople Make: Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Blow an Interview
When Bad Things Happen to Good Spokespeople: Handling Tough Interviews
Meeting the Media Face-to-Face
Sources Media Training