Here’s my free advice of the day: If you are near a microphone, it may be on. And if you are WEARING a microphone, it IS on. You can safely assume that someone will hear your comments, and may record them. And if noteworthy, those comments will be replayed and picked up broadly by other media outlets.
On Wednesday, Yahoo! News Washington Bureau Chief David Chalian was fired because of remarkably inappropriate comments he made about Mitt Romney and his wife ahead of a live webcast covering the Republican National Convention. Chalian naively thought his remarks were private. But he was wearing a microphone and, GASP, this obnoxious statement was picked up and now the world gets hear what he said. Yahoo! acted quickly, issued a statement, terminated Mr. Chalian and apologized to the RNC.
You will recall that President Obama did something similar in March when he uttered to then-Russian President Medvedev, that “after my election I have more flexibility,” in relation to the contentious issue of missile defense. The world heard this embarrassing “private” moment.
POTUS and a seasoned journalist are far from being amateurs, but these are very foolish mistakes that everyone should learn from.
I tell my clients to never to let their guard down when they are in the presence of reporters and especially when doing an interview. Most importantly, the interview, or broadcast, begins when the mic is near, the phone call starts or the reporter is in earshot. The interview ends when the mic is nowhere in sight, the phone is hung up and you and the reporter have parted ways.
I can point to countless headlines and incidents of comments that were made before or after a media interview when an executive, celebrity or politician believed that because the light wasn’t on, or the reporter’s notebook was put away, that their comments would be off-the-record. In the case of a live microphone, nothing is off the record. And with any journalist, nothing is off the record unless both sides agree BEFOREHAND that any following statements will be off the record.
So that means when you are on a conference call assume that someone else is on the line. When walking with a reporter to or from an elevator, assume that your comments can be jotted down later. And when the microphone is on you, it’s on, even if the camera is not.
Never take a relationship with a journalist for granted and never assume that because you don’t want the world to hear your comments, they won’t.
Melissa F Daly has worked in financial communications for more than 15 years, with a special focus on media relations and key message development around critical issues. Melissa formed MFD Communications, a communications strategy firm, after spending three years at Goldman Sachs as Vice President, Corporate Communications. Prior to that, Melissa was a Director at Brunswick Group, a London-based financial and business communications firm. There, she spearheaded its financial services business in the US, managing communications for hedge fund, private equity, insurance and traditional asset management firms. Melissa also worked at Fred Alger Management, The Hartford and Lipper in communications and media relations roles and has frequently appeared on CNBC and CNN as an industry commentator. Her experience spans business sectors and continents.