Off the record

For the Record, Off the Record Doesn’t Exist

By Lacey Taylor

What I’m about to say is completely off the record. Are you ready? NOTHING is truly off the record in today’s world. Do I have your attention now?

Starting a conversation, or pausing an interview with, “hey…this is off the record” is basically calling your audience to full attention, rather than protecting your message. Picture an animal’s ears perking up in alarm: you’ve got their attention, but the wrong kind. Now they’re looking for dirt.

Saying the worlds “off the record” seems a bit dated to some. Maybe so, but a career in PR wouldn’t exist if there was ever only one way to craft a message.

Sneak peak, exclusive access, members-only: these phrases are often used to drive excitement to a select group, and it works! However, some people mistake these phrases as a fail-safe against content or information filtering out into the public. It’s the concept of, “If I’m entrusting you to the first piece of the pie, you won’t sell it to the masses.” Often it creates the opposite effect. The pie isn’t ready and now it’s being consumed by more people than intended. Nobody likes undercooked pie; don’t give away your message unless it’s hot off the press.

Not-ready-for-public information can come in all forms, it’s not just negative information or something can damage your reputation. It can be ANYTHING you aren’t ready to back up with a plan or a crafted message. Back peddling is never an efficient means of travel, and releasing information before you are ready buys you a one-way, non-refundable ticket on that route.

But, there’s always an exception to the rule right? Yes, there are those that will take your exclusive information as a token of trust for relationship building. They’re in it for the long game and will be your voice when your message is ready for the public.

I’ll give you a scenario. Let’s say you are a member of a professional networking organization and you attend a lunch presentation. Here are the facts:

  • 50+ attendees, including reporters are in the audience
  • Event was promoted on Facebook, in a newsletter and on the organization’s website for members, non-members and guests – all public forums, right?
  • Some phrases used throughout the presentation: “exclusive”, and “not released to the public yet”
  • Attendees post event quotes and photos of the speaker on social media – is this a violation of “off the record?”
  • After the event, the speaker claims this was an “off the record” event and asks that all posts be taken down

The dilemma: who’s in the wrong? The networking organization that promoted it as a “sneak peek” but on public platforms? Or, the speaker for presenting information that wasn’t quite ready for public?

The answer is really a lesson learned for both parties.

Our message is one of common sense. If you’re not ready for the public to know, don’t release the information. Saying that something is “exclusive” does not stop the Twitter-happy, “spread the gospel” audience that is excited to share your message with their networks, even if no harm was intended.

Not everyone is out to get you. In a sense, reporters aren’t the only storytellers. Why? Because we all have the means to share any message instantly, at our fingertips. Are you prepared for that?

By all means, create buzz! Sneak peeks and member exclusives are all good things. But be strategic. It’s a lot easier to generate excitement leading up to a planned announcement than trying to pull back on a message you weren’t ready to release.

In all honestly, who doesn’t love a piece of the pie before anyone else? Guilty. Some will honor the gesture as confidential. But, don’t ever take it for granted.

Our best advice? NOTHING is ever off the record. And you can quote me on that.