By Julie Bennett

In our latest CENTRE STAGE WITH 64 MEDIA podcast, we asked Riskinfo publisher Peter Sobels whether ‘off the record’ is really ‘off the record’. His answer was, ‘of course’. He said the reason it is really off the record is that media is a relationship business and if a journalist burns a source, they burn the relationship. Makes sense. 

However, one thing we always ask our clients is why they want to tell a journalist something ‘off the record’. If it’s just to get it off their chests, why not vent to someone in their close inner circle instead? 

The thing about telling a journalist something off the record is that, while the journalist will treat what you tell them as confidential, they will likely investigate further because, well, that’s their job and, to be fair, you’ve pointed them in that very direction. If you don’t want them doing that, don’t give them the information in the first place – on or off the record.  

Another important issue is out of context. Sometimes people come back after a story has been published to say, ‘I know that’s what I said, but that’s not what I meant.’ 

To us, this highlights how well you need to prepare for media interviews. You really must know your key messages and be able to articulate them well. You should also be quite clear on your opinions and how to express them. 

So, how do you do that? Our first tip is to know your key messages and be able to express them clearly. If you don’t have formal key messages, take the time to create them. This takes some brainstorming as they need to articulate exactly what your business is all about in a compelling and memorable way.

Also take the time to think through your opinions and talking points and really test them. Are they genuinely interesting? Are they defensible? The next step is to be able to support your opinions with evidence, experience, or preferably both. 

Another tip is to practise answering the journalist’s questions before the interview. If the questions haven’t been provided beforehand, write your own. What would you ask you about the topic? 

Have a friend or colleague ask you these questions and practise responding to them. This will not only help you respond appropriately to a journalist’s question, it should also help decrease the chance of making off-the-cuff remarks that might be misunderstood and therefore taken out of context.