I spoke to a new client recently. He had given an interview to the media. The reporter misquoted him. The incorrect quote made him look like an insensitive jerk.
There’s good news and bad news for spokespersons who have suffered an infuriating misquote.
The bad news is that you can never guarantee that a reporter will quote you correctly. But the good news is that you have a lot more control than you think—and you can dramatically increase the likelihood that the reporter will get your story right by using the following five techniques.
1. Give them the facts.
The more you say, the more you stray. A lot of spokespeople get misquoted because they say too much. Instead of spending most of your interviews providing reporters with endless background, write a one- or two-page fact sheet that lays out the basic facts. Providing reporters with a written fact sheet in advance of your interview allows you to tell reporters what the story means
rather than what it is
. By doing so, your quote will contain your interpretation
of the facts, instead of raw facts devoid of context.
2. Slow down.
If you’re giving a phone interview, listen for the sound of typing on the other end—you’ll hear it when you say something that intrigues the reporter. That’s your cue to slow down, make sure the reporter has time to capture every word, and repeat what you’ve just said. The same is true during an in-person interview when a reporter is scribbling notes in a notepad. When you see a reporter scribbling notes, slow down and repeat your point.
3. Proofread your e-mails.
Some reporters allow interviewees to respond to questions over e-mail, which helps you to retain total control of your words. Just be sure to have a colleague check your response for unintended meanings and phrases that can be taken out of context. Although you can use e-mail interviews occasionally, you shouldn’t rely on them too often. Your goal is to build long-term relationships with reporters—and that’s something better accomplished over the phone or in person.
4. Ask a reporter to repeat what you said.
Although reporters are under no obligation to read your quotes back to you, many of them will. If you don’t like the way you said something, they may not change it—but if you said something factually inaccurate, they usually will. You should ask them to read back your quotes during
the interview, not afterward. You can also offer to help the reporter fact-check the finished story. If you don’t like the way the reporter framed the story, the journalist will probably not change it, but the reporter will usually correct a “fact” that’s demonstrably false.
5. Record the interview.
I generally don’t recommend recording your interviews with reporters, as it can create an unnecessarily mistrustful relationship with a well-intentioned reporter. But if you know the interview is likely to be contentious, recording the interview can often help you, because the reporter knows you have an independent copy of the raw tape. Just be sure to disclose your intent to record the interview in advance, since many states require you to notify the other party.
Brad Phillips is the president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He blogs at Mr. Media Training. This story originally appeared on PR Daily in March 2011.