Last week Mitt Romney and Paris Hilton were each defending private exchanges that were made public by others. Let’s review. While at a fundraiser earlier this year, Mr. Romney made comments about the segment of the population that he will never convince to vote for him. Thus, he doesn’t care as much about this group for campaigning purposes. A video recording of this was recently brought to light. And last week, while Ms. Hilton was in a NYC taxi, the driver caught her on tape making an inflammatory statement about gay men and AIDS. Both of these comments “were taken out of context,” according to the individuals. I don’t know either of them well enough to guess what they actually meant.
Here’s the lesson: If you are the president, presidential candidate, average politician, CEO, CFO, business leader, or just famous for being wealthy, your comments are never private if there are people around who are not legally or morally obligated to keep your words a secret. No matter your professional title, if the public is generally interested in you as a person, anything that you say in front of others can make headlines.
Whether you are in the broad public eye, or famous within your industry, you are living in a fishbowl. So no matter the size of that fishbowl, when you are speaking to a colleague at a conference, someone may be listening. If you are at a restaurant, someone is taking note (and you should always tip well). Any presentation you give, whether to a small or very large audience, may be caught on tape. Once you put your words out there, anyone can capture them and make them public.
But also consider with the permanent archive that is the World Wide Web, even if you are not a business leader, political candidate, well-known actor, or whatever, now, someday you may be. What you post, record, or say publicly today may someday come back to haunt you with a simple Google or Bing search.
Over the last several days, a lot of blame has been put on the person who recorded Romney and the cab driver who taped Hilton. But really, if Mitt and Paris gave some thought before they spoke, these comments wouldn’t be out in the public domain. The blame lies solely on the people who made these remarks. We’ve all said silly things in the past, but we don’t blame others for remembering them.
Simply, if you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it.
Melissa Daly has worked in media relations and financial communications for nearly 20 years. Melissa formed MFD Communications, a strategic consulting 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 across business sectors and continents.