THEY GOT IT WRONG!
Recently I have refereed several situations where writers with online outlets made numerous factual mistakes in an article. Gone are the days of fact checking. It’s such a vivid image, though—can’t you picture the grizzled editor with the night shade slipping down his forehead, cigar clenched between his teeth, roaring his disapproval at a misplaced comma….?! No longer.
What to do? The winery/client is upset. Why didn’t the writer get it right? Names of wines are wrong. Names of types of wines are wrong. The wrong job title was used. A name was misspelled. People will be confused. And so it goes.
FIND A FLAK JACKET
This actually introduces us to a bigger area: it’s the publicist-journalist-client interface. I often talk about providing a flak jacket for my clients; it’s something I really should do (an army surplus store? Where do you find flak jackets today?). So here’s the message: Do Not Take It Personally. Repeat as often as necessary. The journalist isn’t out to screw you. They’re scrambling to finish their story and rush off to the next one. There’s no personal animus. There’s no intent to ‘ding’ you. There’s just Real Life. Busy. Distracted. No time to check. On to the next.
So once the winery and publicist have vented to each other and calmed down, there are a few options. As in almost any situation in the practice of PR, do you have a “real” relationship with the writer? Will they be amenable to hearing about a few inaccuracies…which means they might be open to making some corrections?
If you have a green light there, then by all means contact the writer and graciously ask if some correcting or updating might be possible. Be ready that it might NOT be: some online formats are very complicated and the inputting may not be entirely in the purview of the writer.
If the writer is amenable, then don’t prolong the conversation. I suggest that you copy the text into a Word file, make the corrections using editing software and then send it back. This makes it very easy for the writer to 1) see the mistakes (or corrections) and 2) to input the material. Another alternative of course is to delineate the changes referring to specific lines in the article.
JUST THE FACTS
A word of caution: this doesn’t apply to philosophical differences or turns of phrase: this only works when the ‘mistakes’ are fact-based—-a vintage, a name, a spelling, a release date, etc.
If you don’t get that green light, then console everyone with the old PR adage: INK IS INK.
Yes, yes, and yes. I can’t speak for those journalists whose work appears on dead trees and therefore is harder to change, but pretty much everyone I know who writes online would welcome the opportunity to make a factual correction to make their story more accurate. And the nice thing about online is that such changes are easy.
One point of contention I often get with wineries is on the retail price of their wines. They quite often desire or even try to insist that I list the SRP. But when I see 30 listings on wine searcher for $10 less, I’m going to list the price that most consumers are going to pay, not whatever you give me.
I always want to know if I got something factually wrong, no matter how minor. Please tell me. Not only do I want to correct the mistake, I don’t want to repeat it in a subsequent article.
Julie Ann is right that there’s nothing personal. You know how you’re gnashing your teeth when you see there’s an error? I’m going to be doing the same thing later, possibly even worse. I hate, hate, hate getting something wrong. I wish it never happened. But 10 years ago I had a week to write a story and three people edited it, and I could count on one hand the number of errors I’d had in print in my entire career. I wish that were still true.
As Alder said “yes, yes, and yes.” Every time I have contacted a professional writer regarding a factual error they have been appreciative of the updated information. And as Blake points out, they may not be able to change the first thing they wrote but they will get it right the next time.
Life is too short to stress out over stuff like this. We used to say that today’s newspaper lines tomorrow’s bird cage. And while stuff persists online and is easier to search historically, the attention paid by the casual reader is even less than in the days of print – excepting those with a vested interest.
John brings up a good point that the casual reader isn’t going to care as much as the winery, or other invested party that a piece of information is incorrect. However, it should be a point of professional pride and diligence for a writer to do everything they can to get it right, and correcting inaccuracies raised by those invested parties should be done promptly and graciously. Years ago, a major wine magazine incorrectly listed the price of a Reserve wine at the non reserve price. I had a customer insist that I was overcharging for the wine because they believed what they had read was truth, so they didn’t bother questioning the source. Wineries and PR can best do their part to minimize errors (or omissions) by simply providing every morsel of information on the brand, principals and product to the writer with the wine. It takes me several weeks to finish the tasting for an issue, yet before I can actually begin writing I find I need to visit more than a few websites to find details not listed on the bottle. It doesn’t help me that a winery will produce a beautiful high-quality press kit listing vine density, rootstock, pH, TA and soil types, yet leave out production and price, while other brands require you to be a mailing list member to even enter the site. Lots of times it is phone calls and emails to nail everything down but it is time measured in hours, not minutes. Time that could be better spent proof-reading and editing before the rush of a deadline to publish.