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Asking a journalist for a correction 101

Most of you know the feeling well. The hours of work and relationship building have finally paid off, and you've secured coverage for the client. But you can't share the good news just yet because there's an inaccuracy in the copy. 

Perhaps the company name, oDDcapITals, has been reverted to the publication's house style, there is a distinct lack of backlinks or the latest set of financial results are a few zeros shy of accurate. Either way, the client isn't going to be thrilled. 

An email has to be sent asking for a correction, but dealing with time-pressed journalists can be a delicate art — as food critic Jay Rayner recently made apparent. So we asked PR for their best practice on dealing with this very situation:

Don't forget your manners

Tristan Van Den Berg, account manager at PR agency Spa Communications: "Asking a journalist to correct a mistake can be tricky, especially when it's an error you were responsible for spotting. PR professionals will undoubtedly encounter this situation a few times in their careers, and it's important to remain level-headed. One key point to consider is your relationship with the journalist. If you're asking them to correct their write-up, be sure to be open and honest about the reasoning for the change. If you're dealing with an angry client who is outraged by an apparent misspelling or misinterpretation of their coverage, explain the situation clearly to the journalist so they understand the importance of the change. Lastly, if the journalist adheres to your correction request, be very grateful and email them your thanks. Making corrections, however small, still takes time, so showing some gratitude will go a long way and ensure the relationship maintains its strength."

Is it necessary?

James Swan, associate director at PR firm Red Lion PR: "If a journalist has reported something that is factually incorrect from the media assets you’ve shared, there is no harm in politely asking for a correction. For example, we’ve had instances where an incorrect image, web link or statistic has been used where we’ve had no issue asking for a correction and a journalist has been happy to oblige. As PRs, our job is to try and control the narrative as much as we can to present the reputation of our clients, but how a journalist chooses to report on a story is up to them. It can often be a tricky balance between doing what’s best for your client, but also ensuring you don’t ruin a journalist relationship forever, so my advice would be to only ask for a correction when it is absolutely necessary and you’re within your right to do so."

Don't panic and don't bombard

Jaya Jackson, founder at PR firm, J Jackson PR: "I would always approach the journalist with a respectful, light-hearted, and professional tone. Keep in mind that journalists are inundated with requests and juggle multiple deadlines. To speed things up, clearly and concisely explain the error and provide the correction. They might not respond immediately, but don't panic—they'll get back to you. Avoid aggressive, confrontational or accusatory demands —it’s usually a quick fix and not worth damaging a professional relationship. It can be challenging when your client is pressing for an immediate correction, but refrain from sending multiple follow-ups. Overloading them can strain your relationship and might cause your request to be overlooked, and the last thing you want is to be irritating. Always express gratitude. After all, they have covered your story."

Be courteous

Marley Lumbard, founder and executive director at PR agency Qulture Media: "Journalists do not like to have errors in their work, so if you catch something about your client that was misrepresented, misspelled, or otherwise, contact them immediately. Thank them again for their coverage, let them know you noticed an error, and then show the error and how you would like it fixed. Most times even the busiest journalists will go out of their way to get the issue fixed as soon as possible, but other times, especially with freelancers, they're working through an editor, so it may take additional time. If it's factual information that's potentially damaging to your client, let the reporter know your concerns and that you hope it isn't too much to get it taken care of immediately. Always be courteous. Nine times out of ten, it was an honest mistake and they will be happy to make the change."

Use sparingly

Nick Baines CEO and co-founder of PR firm Nara Communications: "When asking journalists for a correction you need to consider an important question: is what they've written factually inaccurate? There is a fundamental difference between correcting inaccuracy, which is in any journalist's interests to do, and asking for language you're not happy with to be changed. It is not a journalist's job to hit your clients' key messages or regurgitate marketing copy. I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions PR people have about how the media works.

"It's also important to remember that some corrections are easier for a reporter to make than others. For example, a change in a headline might need editor or sub-editor approval which can take time and be cumbersome for the journalist who wrote the story. In short, I always advise my team to be sparing when asking for corrections to be made, as the process can strain the relationship with the journalist."

Utilise the [expletive] sandwich method

Guy Marturano, senior media consultant at PR agency Smarts: "My dos are; Remember that journalists are humans too and we all make mistakes; Be very polite with your correspondence when asking for the correction; Only ask for the correction if the copy is factually incorrect or you feel like the copy is a gross misrepresentation of the brand. Also, deliver the news in a sh*t sandwich, for example: 'Loved the article…sorry to flag but X is factually incorrect it should be Y. We also have Z coming up that I think you’d love (or similar).' Don't take it personally, don't assume that the journalist is out to get you or your brand, don't expect a response to your e-mail, just keep tabs on the article  and don't begin making demands."

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