Not all bad press results from a crisis.
Sometimes a reporter gets a key fact wrong, a columnist takes an unfavorable view of your political stance, or an arts critic disapproves of your museum’s new exhibit.
You can’t always respond to stories before publication, given that some run without advance notice. Most reporters will often ask for a comment or your perspective before the story runs, and their questions might indicate that they’ve drawn incorrect impressions. If you think you’re about to be the subject of bad press, consider these five actions:
1. Detail the errors.
Make a list of the reporter’s errors, and explain why the story is wrong. Provide the reporter with the accurate information, citing your sources.
2. Ask to meet with the reporter.
It’s disarming when a spokesperson asks to meet face to face. It sends a message that you have nothing to hide and could make reporters reconsider their perspectives.
3. Take it up a notch.
If you’re getting nowhere with the reporter, speak with his or her editor. That person bears greater responsibility for running accurate stories.
4. Get your lawyers involved.
You might be able to get a story delayed, revised, or killed if you can demonstrate to the news organization that it is factually incorrect and could lead to a costly lawsuit. Tread carefully when considering lawsuits against news organizations, as legal cases often attract more headlines and keep damaging information in the headlines that much longer.
5. Beat the press.
In extreme cases, you might consider releasing your story before the news outlet does. That might mean offering the story to a competing (and fairer) journalist or releasing it through your own social media channels. By beating the journalist to the story, you’ll be able to get your version of events out first and help control the narrative. Beware: If you pursue this strategy, the reporter might punish you in future coverage.
Can you sue a news organization for an incorrect story?
If you’re the target of an inaccurate news story, you might be able to sue the offending news organization. The information below comes from Erik M. Pelton & Associates
, a law firm specializing in intellectual property and social media issues.
Libel and slander are legal terms for injuring another party by making harmful misstatements. Libel relates to statements made in print or online; slander applies to oral statements. Both are difficult to establish in the U.S., where the person suing has the burden of proof. Claims are easier to prove in many other countries, since the person accused of libel or slander has to prove that the disputed statement is true.
In order win a lawsuit in the U.S., the statement must have been negligently made and must have resulted in harm to the person defamed. Public figures have an even higher threshold to meet, and they must show the person making the statement knew it to be false or had a reckless disregard for the truth.
[RELATED: Find out how to craft the perfect pitch at our April PR & Media Relations event in NYC.]
To avoid being sued yourself, be sure that any negative statements you make about a specific individual or business are accurate—or are clearly identified as your opinion.
This is an edited excerpt from Brad Phillips' book, "The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview." He is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this excerpt originally appeared.