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I'm Afraid of Being Misquoted! Publicity Dilemma 8

by Marcia Yudkin

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Published on this site: April 25th, 2009 - See more articles from this month

Occasionally someone comes up at the end of a seminar on publicity to tell me that they once got media coverage, but the article was full of errors and they're now reluctant to try again. Or someone cites a colleague or neighbor who was grievously misquoted in the news. From those who've voiced this concern to me, I suspect many who don't ask about it also have this worry in the back of their minds.

It's understandable to be apprehensive about being misrepresented in the news. After all, it's public - massively public. You don't want to show up there with the equivalent of toilet paper snaking from your shoe. And we all know how easy it is to get the facts wrong. As kids, we experienced it when we played "Telephone," where what made sense at the beginning of the chain of messaging became totally transmuted by the end.

Yet being misquoted is not usually the catastrophe most people think it is. I once had a client who had become publicity-shy after getting front-page coverage in the Wall Street Journal. "There were 17 errors in the article!" she wailed.

"Come on, show me," I said.

She began pointing at particular sentences in the article and explaining how each was wrong. I stopped her after the fifth mistake. "You know, not one of these so-called mistakes has any impact whatsoever on your credibility. Do you think anyone cares that you owned that company for seven years instead of five - anyone except you? Of course reporters should get it right. However, here you are complaining about getting free coverage in the Wall Street Journal! When, as you told me, people who read the article called you from all over the world to find out how to hire you!"

Not convinced? Okay, here are three tactics that help you prevent being misquoted:

  1. Prepare for your media interview: Find out ahead of time what the story is about. Jot down your talking points - the things you want to get across to the reporter. Then stick to them. Don't wander, don't adlib.

  2. Provide a written fact sheet or backgrounder to the reporter: This contains dates, numbers, details and spellings critical to the topic. For an interview in person, you can hand it to the interviewer, and for a phone interview you can fax or email it. This way, the reporter knows for certain that you graduated from the University of Washington, not Washington University, and that you founded your firm in 1979, not 1997.

    Do not demand or even ask politely for the chance to review the article or the broadcast segment before it's finalized. This goes against journalistic ethics. It's fine to invite the reporter to call you back to check anything they're not sure about or to say you'll be happy to cooperate with fact checkers.

  3. During your interview, speak slowly and clearly: Use simpler sentences rather than long, complicated constructions that run off in five different directions. Spell out any proper names or unusual words. When face to face with a reporter who's taking notes, pause occasionally so the reporter can catch up with you. Do the same during a phone interview if you hear the reporter clacking away on a keyboard.

If, despite such precautions, you are misquoted, don't freak out. Stop and think about whether or not anyone besides you really cares about the error. If you decide it's important to get a correction on the record, write to the media outlet in a cool, collected tone.

Investor's Business Daily once featured Janice Hoffman's company, Before and After, on its front page, noting that it's located in Waterville, Massachusetts. There is no such town, however. The paper's one-line correction, "Janice Hoffman, Professional Organizer, is located in Watertown, Massachusetts," was spotted by a Channel 4 reporter who had not seen the original article and in short order put her on the air. "That was definitely my favorite typo, ever," Hoffman told me.

Marcia Yudkin: Publicity expert Marcia Yudkin is the author of 6 Steps to Free Publicity, Persuading on Paper, Web Site Marketing Makeover and eight other books. She has engineered coverage for herself or her company in the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Success, Women in Business and dozens of newspapers around the world. Get free access to a one-hour audio recording in which she answers the most common questions about getting media coverage at:

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