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In today’s fast-paced world, it’s becoming more and more difficult to not be exposed to a major disaster or tragedy somewhere in the world. As a marketer or PR person, there’s not much you can  do or control to avoid a disaster at your company, but there are some things you should keep in mind in meeting the media or preparing your CEO and senior staff to do that in the event of one.

Just Between You and Me…

How often have you said this to a good friend or confidante? A big mistake some company spokespersons make with the news media is making a statements before clarifying if they are off the record. Stating this after the fact and without prior mutual agreement doesn’t count. Don’t be surprised if you do this and what you thought was off the record is the lead story on the evening news.

Off the record means that whatever you said cannot be published. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel you need to go off the record to clarify or expand on something, it’s always wise to not only get consent beforehand but also clarify the meaning so there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind what was intended or meant. The stakes are much too high to take anything for granted.


Background used to mean that any information discussed may be reported and attributed to an undisclosed source. However, it’s become blurred over time, so any consideration toward discussing background with the media, like off the record, should be discussed and its meaning agreed to as well.

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Deep Background

Like background, deep background means the information may be disseminated but with no attribution. This usually drives the media to attempt to get someone else in a position of authority at the company to go on the record and verify what you revealed.

Background or Deep Background?

Deep background can be useful and invaluable in moving the media to reach a deeper and better understanding of an extraordinary circumstance or situation, especially if you can reach an agreement that none of what’s discussed may be reported. This can be very delicate.

If you decide to go down this road, be extremely careful in not revealing confidential company information or anything else you don’t wish to see on the evening news now or in the future, even without attribution.

Be Clear

Off the record, background and deep background mean different things to people today and are not universally understood by everyone. Be sure to state your meaning before saying anything and then definitely be sure to obtain unanimous agreement and consent.


If a reporter disregards the agreement and publishes or airs your information despite having reached an agreement, there’s not much you can do after the fact. This is why cultivating a good and trusting relationship with the media before any crisis is important.

If a crisis occurs at your organization, invite those reporters with whom you’ve established a rapport. Be sure to record your press conference from start to finish. If a reporter breaks his or her word and reveals information agreed to be off the record or deep background, all you can do is present the recorded evidence to the reporter’s boss but know that doing this won’t put the cat back in the proverbial bag.

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Ronn Torossian is the Founder & Chairman of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently owned PR firms in the United States. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth and vision, with the agency earning accolades including being named a Top 50 Global PR Agency by PRovoke Media, a top three NYC PR agency by O'Dwyers, one of Inc. Magazine's Best Workplaces and being awarded multiple American Business Awards, including a Stevie Award for PR Agency of the Year. With over 25 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected public relations executives. Throughout his career he has advised leading and high-growth businesses, organizations, leaders and boards across corporate, technology and consumer industries. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications. He has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly in the media and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller. Torossian's strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, a Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a recipient of Crain's New York Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Outside of 5W, Torossian serves as a business advisor to and investor in multiple early stage businesses across the media, B2B and B2C landscape. Torossian is the proud father of two daughters. He is an active member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of multiple not for profit organizations.