Fact check faux pas

How not to fumble a fact check opportunity

Understanding the value of courtesy reviews, and how to master this earned media skill

If a media contact offers you an opportunity to fact check their work, consider it one of the holy grails of media relations. After all, media are not required to afford you this courtesy in advance of broadcasting or publishing their pieces. But every once in a while, especially if you have developed good rapport and mutual trust with the contact, they will give you the opportunity to check for accuracy. The following guide will help you take advantage of the opportunity and avoid common missteps, so it isn’t your last.

Understand the purpose of a media fact-check

When you have the opportunity to review a piece before it is published, keep in mind it is not time to line edit the writing or ask media to include more of your product key messages. After all, the media want and need to maintain their credibility. That credibility is exactly why you want them to report on your product or company. A piece that sounds like an ad isn’t how they accomplish that. 

Clients often struggle to withhold suggested builds and subjective recommendations for editors because they want to make the most of their publicity. It is important to provide the feedback they are looking for – clarification or confirmation of the facts – rather than try to help them write their piece.

What not to ask during a courtesy review

Certain types of feedback should always be off-limits, as they could insult your media contact and deter them from working with you in the future.

  • Overall story angle. Editors may not share the full piece in context, and they often share only the portion that mentions your client. Either way, clients should not attempt to change the overall angle or voice of the piece. This is predetermined as part of an editorial calendar. What is more – it is their art – where they add value for their reader.
  • Expanded product messaging. This cannot be emphasized enough. When media requests a fact check, they are offering an opportunity to confirm that the product messages are factually correct, not for feedback on the context in which those messages are framed.
  • Competitive comparisons. In the world of marketing, clients like to avoid direct competitive comparisons unless there is unquestionable and irrefutable evidence. Even then, lawyers tend to revise competitive mentions when the piece is under legal review. These types of comparisons are what media do, though, and it is why they are trusted by their audiences. Customers expect companies will always rank their own products above competitors. They look to media and other influencers because they have an outside vantage point.

These are not exactly the most comfortable discussions to have with a client, but they are important. They help clients see the situation from a different vantage point and respect the delicate nature of media relationships. Media relations should complement your overall marketing communications program. It gives you credibility and helps to build brand awareness. But with that opportunity comes some loss of control that can be difficult for brand marketers.

R+K’s Amy McEvoy, head of Earned Media, contributed to this post. If you would like to learn more about how Rhea + Kaiser can help strengthen media relationships for your brand, contact our Business Development Director gtomaro@rkconnect.com.

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