5 techniques to guard yourself from being misquoted in an interview

Ensure what you mean is what is written

Here’s my own slightly exaggerated version of a famous proverb – sticks and stones may break my bones, but twist my words and they can be really dangerous.

For over five years it was every hip-hop mogul’s mission to be seen swigging a bottle of Cristal champagne. Frequently mentioning the high-end spirit in songs, making sure there was always a bottle on display when MTV Cribs came over and popping corks in music videos and at nightclubs; the $600 bottle of bubbly was considered a coveted status symbol for many rappers. However, in 2006 came the famous tipple’s ‘tipping point’. The champagne simply just disappeared of the music scene. Stocks began to plummet and sales were down nearly 50 percent.

So what went so wrong? Bad PR-journalist management. In early 2006, Frederic Rouzaud, the managing director of the winery that makes Cristal gave an interview. Now when asked by the magazine if the association between Cristal and the ‘bling lifestyle’ could be detrimental, one would have assumed his reply to mean that – while this was not their intended target audience, they were pleased that the brand was so popular, just like (modesty) a bottle of Krug or Dom Perignon. What finally went into print however, read – “That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.” Outraged by Cristal’s cold shoulder to the hip-hop community, Jay-Z – CEO of Def Jam records and No.15 on the ‘Most Influential Men in the World 2011’ list; called for a massive boycott of the brand, rallying every rapper. Cristal was immediately replaced by Krug, Dom Perignon and Armand de Brignac (a mini winery that thanks to Jay Z’s endorsement managed to outsell its quarterly targets by nearly 5 times!).

As infuriating as it is, one can never guarantee that a reporter will quote you correctly. So here are a few techniques, a spokesperson should adopt to make sure they don’t come across as insensitive and ignorant, in an interview.

1) The more you say, the more you stray: Just stick to the facts. A lot of spokespeople get misquoted because they say too much. Instead of spending hours on a backgrounder, stick to a one page fact sheet which lays out the basics.

2) Slow down and maybe even repeat: If you’re giving a phone interview, listen for the sound of typing on the other end. That’s your cue to slow down. When you say something that intrigues the reporter make sure he has time to capture every word, and repeat what you’ve just said, if you have to. The same holds true for 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) Email interviews: Some reporters allow interviewees to respond to questions over e-mail. This allows you to retain total control of your words. It’s always better to have a colleague double check your work for any unintended meanings and phrases that can be taken out of context.

4) Could you read that back please? 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, change it. Remember to ask them to read back your quotes during the interview, not afterwards. Offering to help the reporter fact check the finished story is a clever way to accomplish this. 

5) Record the Interview: There is no harm in you recording your own interview. This always creates a useful backup in-case you forget what you said or can be used in training, case studies etc.


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