cross street

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.

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, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.