Did reading this headline leave you wanting to know more? I’m going to guess yes. This is a sentence that hints you are about to hear privileged information – something truly juicy or perhaps even fully explosive. By modern standards though, you could describe it as “click bait” as, more often than not, having been reeled in by a good teaser, the content itself is actually rather dull, something you knew already or simply do not care if you know or not.

The question we most commonly get asked when delivering media training for clients is: “is it ok to go off the record?” In nine out of ten cases the answer is no. A media spokesperson’s objective should always be to make the core briefing interesting, quotable and relevant, while delivering the desired key messages to meet your objectives in agreeing to be interviewed.

Offering information ‘off the record’ is often viewed by clients as a relationship building exercise when in reality it can have the opposite effect.

Put yourself in a journalist’s shoes for a moment: you’ve just sat with a senior manager of a large corporate for an hour and they have reeled off a stream of information you could have cut and pasted from the website or just hit print on the press release their PR agency sent over before the interview, and been none the wiser. Their sermon was littered with jargon and even the plain English section did not deliver new or surprising information. Then, just as you’re about to put down your pen and make a mental note to never accept a briefing invitation from this company ever again, come those enticing words: “call I tell you something off the record?”

From this point forward it can go one of two ways…

  • They proceed to tell you more of the same, nothing novel or ground-breaking. And there’s the added disappointment of having to retreat from the edge of your seat with your prior perception of this spokesperson as a lame duck confirmed.


  • They reveal to you the biggest scoop of your journalistic career. Given your low rating for this spokesperson as a future source of insight you’re prepared to risk your integrity and run the story anyway.

Both eventualities are of course disadvantageous for a spokesperson.

So if that’s what you shouldn’t say, what should you say in a media interview?  The following tips are intended to help you deliver a killer briefing – that not only generates media coverage but also earns you a spot on the media’s “good people to get a quote from” list.

  • Tell them what you want to tell them… then tell them again
    The entire briefing should be based around a maximum of three key messages and provide the proof points that substantiate these as fact, or at least validate your informed perspective.
  • It’s also the way you tell them

There is a much documented statistic that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice and 7% is content. This can be applied to communicating with the media. Make use of verbal ‘flags’ like “what’s really interesting about that is…” or “this was totally unexpected but…” to add emphasis and signal what you think are the headlines.

  • Facts not science fiction

Build your briefing around data driven insights because figures, percentages and trackable trends are what make headlines. A popular PR tactic is to commission research on which to base a story but pepper this with internal data only your organisation has access to.

  • A picture tells a thousand words

We are not suggesting a picture book approach to delivering your next media briefing but consider storytelling techniques when talking to a journalist. Anecdotal evidence, real life examples and comparisons all help to bring information and data to life. Characters are also important – build a picture of your company and the type of person it solves the problems of.

  • Talk with not at your target audience

It’s more difficult to visualise your audience when talking to them through the journalist as a gatekeeper rather than presenting directly to them in a room, but keep in mind who will eventually be reading or listening to your words. Why should they care about what you have to tell them, what will it change and how do you want them to react or respond? This is your call to action.

To find out more please email Alison Hicks, associate director of Four Corporate & Financial here.