There’s No Such Thing As An "Official" Interview

Imagine you have a television interview scheduled with a reporter. The handsome TV news personality arrives at your office, the crew sets up the cameras and lights, and the interview begins.

Fifteen minutes fly by in what seems like seconds, and you’re done. You feel good. Even though the reporter asked a few tricky questions, you were prepared and handled them well.

As the crew packs up, you stand around with the reporter and make some polite small talk. He casually asks you about one of your competitors, and you offer a casual, if mildly negative, response about their work. When the piece airs, you’re shocked to find that the reporter introduces the piece by quoting your offhanded remarks about your competitor.

Your boss is not going to be happy.

You may feel betrayed by the reporter, but he’s done nothing wrong. The interview didn’t officially ”begin” when the cameraman pressed the record button or “end” when he turned it off. Anything you say before, during, or after the actual interview – including any phone or email exchanges – can be quoted.

Don’t say anything in the presence of a journalist that you wouldn’t want published – until you’ve said goodbye, gotten in your car, and driven away. I know that sounds like incredibly obvious advice, yet my month-end media disasters lists are regularly filled by public figures who make this mistake.

One such example was California senate candidate Carly Fiorina, who was caught on-camera (before the “official” interview began) bashing her opponent’s hairstyle. The clip below gave Californians an insight into who Ms. Fiorina really was – and they didn’t like it:

In the downtime before and after the “official” interview, it’s okay to chat with the reporter. But use that valuable time to state your most important messages – if not verbatim, then by advancing the main themes you want him to remember. Otherwise, that causal remark may come tomorrow’s nightmare headline.

Related: Why Going Off The Record Is a Dumb Idea
Related: The Three Questions Reporters Always Ask