You’re Always on the Record
Jeremy Kartchner is a Partner at Snapp Conner PR and has more than 15 years experience in both technology and sports PR. In addition to his responsibilities with Snapp Conner PR, Kartchner also works with the Utah Jazz as a member of its Game Night public relations staff where he is responsible for tracking and providing game time statistics for local, national and international media and conducting pre and post game player and coach interviews. He’s a sports fan, golfer, father of three, husband to one hottie, partially bionic, cavity free, Olympics junkie and wanna be blogger.
Author: Jeremy Kartchner | Google+
I work part time for the Utah Jazz in the team’s public relations department. The other night, about an hour before tipoff, another employee from the guest relations department came in and was talking about a ticket request from one of the team’s sponsors. As she described the request and the specific tickets she was looking for her colleague asked who was requesting the tickets.
As she answered her colleague’s questions, the name she gave was a friend of mine. She proceeded to express her frustration that the ticket request was being made at such a late date. Before she got too far along in her rant, I spoke up and asked if my friend was going to be attending the game that night.
She stopped abruptly and quickly asked if I knew this person. I confirmed that I did and she gave me a guilty look, the one where she knew she had just got caught with her hand in the cookie jar. I smiled and she stuttered for a minute trying to remember what exactly she had said and if she needed to apologize.
As I thought about this episode, it reminded me of the first and sometimes the most important PR advise I give my clients; you’re always on the record. Every company and every client I’ve ever dealt with over the last 15 or so years wants to be in front of and talk to the media. The hope is that if you talk to the media they’ll write a story about you, your company and or your product/service.
Talking to the media is a great opportunity but over the course of my career, I’ve found that most people don’t realize that, similar to being arrested and read your writes, anything you say can and will be used against you.
I worked for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic Winter Games of 2002. An example that illustrates this point was an incident that happed on the Olympic Torch Relay.
The Olympic Torch Relay lasted 65 days and traveled through 48 states on its way to Rice Eccles Stadium for Opening Ceremonies. A friend and colleague was the spokesperson for the Olympic Torch Relay and was interviewed multiple times a day in every city they passed through. Every night during the Torch Relay, there was an evening celebration where the community could come out and see and hold the Torch and participate in a concert and other Olympic activities.
As the Torch Relay came through Idaho before entering Utah, the Mayor of Boise, Idaho told a member of the media that he thought the Torch Relay’s evening celebration in Boise was unimpressive. He said some other things that could be considered inflammatory against the Torch Relay and the Olympics. The following morning the reporter he told this to called my friend to get his response. My friend had known this reporter for years and had talked to him every day for the previous 60 days. As the reporter told him what he wanted to talk about and repeated the Mayor’s comments from the previous night, my friend responded that, “the mayor of Boise is full of crap.”
He didn’t think anything of it and answered a number of questions. The next morning, as I was reading the paper, I came across this reporters article and the headline and lead was quoting my friend that, “the Mayor of Boise is full of crap.”
I called my friend and said, “So, you think the Mayor of Boise is full of crap?” He jumped right in and confirmed that he did and proceeded to explain why. As he was explaining why he thought what he thought, he stopped and asked how I knew that. I explained that I read it in the morning newspaper. He was stunned but realized he knew better. Even though he knew this reporter and thought he was just having a conversation prior to the actual interview, he was still on the record.
I share this story with all my clients to illustrate the fact that they’re always on the record. To prepare for this fact and to avoid mistakes like the one my friend made on the Torch Relay and the one my colleague made the other night before the Jazz game, here are some tips to help avoid saying something you may regret.
- Be prepared. Leading up to an interview, make a list of the key talking points you want to convey to the reporter. Rehearse those points in advance so you can communicate it effectively and naturally.
- If you don’t want to disclose specific information, don’t say it. I’ve had clients say something or give information they didn’t want to give and then try and tell the reporter, “that was off the record.” In reality, it’s not off the record. If you don’t want the reporter to know something, don’t tell them. In the rare instances that you want to have an off the record conversation, ask the reporter if you can talk off the record and then wait for them to confirm or agree to being off the record. When you’ve talked off the record, confirm when you’re back on the record.
- Remember that you don’t have to answer every question. If a reporter asks a question that is inappropriate or not applicable, you don’t have to answer it. Most of my clients are private companies and don’t want to give out revenue numbers. In these cases, a simple response to a question about revenues is, “We’re a private company and we don’t share revenue numbers.”
If you’re company is like Lendio and specializes in helping small businesses find financing and a reporter asks about current topics in the news such as gun control laws I recommend you politely tell the reporter, “This topic doesn’t have anything to do with what our business does, can we please move on to the next question?”
Several years ago my wife worked for a public company. The company’s CEO was a regular speaker at a number of different events and to other companies and clients. After one speech he was giving in Hawaii, a member of the media interviewed him about the company. During the interview the reporter asked about same sex marriage. The CEO gave his opinion about same sex marriage but since he was speaking on behalf of the company, his opinion was reported as the company’s stance on the issue. His opinion infuriated some people and the phone lines began lighting up at corporate headquarters with upset clients calling to terminate their relationship with the company.
- Don’t guess. When you’re being interviewed, everybody always wants to sound smart or be seen as the expert. If a question comes up and you don’t know the answer, there is nothing wrong with telling the reporter that you don’t know but that you can check and get back to them. I recommend saying something like, “I don’t know the answer to that but I want to make sure to get you the right information. Let me check into it and get back to you.”
When I was in the second grade, my mom used to let me walk to my elementary school that was two blocks away from our house. She would watch from our house as I walked/ran to school. I used to think it was cool to be the first one there and would run as fast as I could to try and be the first to arrive. On one of the mornings where I was the first to arrive, Mr. Wilson saw me and asked me what time I got to school. I was in the second grade and had no idea what time I got there. I didn’t even know what time school started or what time it ended each day for that matter. I knew he wanted an answer though so I blurted out 6:30 am.
Mr. Wilson was shocked and took me to his office to call my mom to see why she would allow me to walk to school by myself at 6:30 am. My mom explained to the Principle that I had not left for school at 6:30 am and that she had watched me walk to school and seen him walk up and talk to me just as I arrived at school. Mr. Wilson should have known better than to believe an eight-year-old that didn’t know how to tell time, but the story illustrates the point about the importance of not guessing.
Interviews with the media add tremendous value and reliable third party validation to your company. By remembering that you’re always on the record and by following the tips listed above you’ll be better prepared to make the most of the interview opportunity and capitalize on the reliable third party endorsement that accompanies any article or coverage that results.
Have you ever said something on the record that came back to bite you?