Posted by Cognito on Tue, Jan 04 2011

All Posts by Cognito

‘On the record off the record’

Let’s make a few New Year resolutions

At the end of 2010 in the UK, several high profile politicians seem to have forgotten some of the most basic tenants of communications.  Before any interview/meeting ensure you are crystal clear on the level of attribution, otherwise you may find your comments on the front page...

As with all situations that have been taken out of context, the current cases were not as simple as it sounds, but it serves as a timely reminder about comments from public personalities.  It seems strange that after a year of public gaffes, none greater than from the CEO of BP, that people in the public eye still do not get it...

Attributing comments to individuals can be subtly different from geography to geography and from publication to publication.   However, one of the first lessons of being interviewed is to ensure that you lay out some ground rules in advance of the meeting.  Is it on or off the record, for background or, is it Chatham house rules (the last two would need further explanation, because one persons ‘background chat’ is different from another!)

As communications professionals one of our roles in the interview process is to ensure that both sides of the interview are clear on the level of attribution and also to be the ‘third set’ of ears to ensure that what is eventually reported is a true reflection of the interview. 

In the digital world that we currently live in, where comments to an individual can be broadcast to the masses in seconds, public personalities have to understand that potentially every word they utter could end up in the media, so before their open their mouths they need to consider if what they are about to say would embarrass them, or the organisation their represent.  If it would, then do not engage the mouth!

So in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, here are a few for all spokespeople in 2011:

  • Make sure that every interview has a communications  objective – if none can be found.  Do not carry out the interview
  • Make sure all parties are comfortable with the level of attribution before you start the interview
  • Make sure you involve the PR team, both as a ‘third set’ of ears and as counsel on content

by Stuart Macaulay

Interview, PR, Spokesperson,
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