Fight Fake News with Validated Data in Story Pitches

 As skepticism grows about fake news, false claims and the news media itself, PR professionals and brands need to make it a routine best practice to provide credible third-party validation along with their story pitches, promoted content and op-eds.

As skepticism grows about fake news, false claims and the news media itself, PR professionals and brands need to make it a routine best practice to provide credible third-party validation along with their story pitches, promoted content and op-eds.

Fears of fake news are making journalists even more skeptical of press releases. Credible third-party validations of claims are the best available antidote.

Traditional media outlets and social media platforms are stepping up their defenses against fake news. Those defenses will naturally spill over to evaluations of public relations pitches, promoted content and op-eds.

PR professionals and brand managers are tasked with communicating commercial messages, often including claims about quality, value, safety and unique features. Watch just about any episode of Shark Tank to see entrepreneurs make claims that often wither under questioning by the investor sharks. Expect reporters, editors and influential bloggers to perform the same critical role.

Instead of viewing this as an impediment, consider it an opportunity to differentiate your new product or bright idea by supplying credible reinforcement of your claims. The reinforcement could be test results from a recognized laboratory or research group, endorsements from relevant experts or testimonials from actual consumers.

Avoid any temptation to juice up or tamper with your third-party validation because savvy journalists will verify it. Even online reviews are getting increased scrutiny to ensure they aren’t plants or faked by competitors.

Celebrate the awakening awareness to fake news, phishing and hacking. Take the consumer’s side on privacy and verification. Model behavior that sets market benchmarks and builds trust. Guard that trust with vigilance so you don’t slip into bad or sloppy habits in validating what you claim.

Experiment with video featuring real customers or an expert using your product and attesting to its quality, value, safety and environmental friendliness. These can be 90 to 120-second mini-ads that can be posted on social media and websites, as well multimedia content to include with media pitches or as newsjacking opportunities to earn media coverage.

Build your credibility components into your basic media outreach strategy so it is routine. Start with a clear, compelling news hook, briefly tell your story, then provide your proof. Providing validation in the form of expert findings, real testimonials and video explanations will lend credibility to your pitch and pique reporter interest. Don’t hesitate to point out that validation is – or should be – a new best PR practice in the battle against fake news and false claims.

Cision’s 2018 State of the Media Report, which surveyed 1,355 journalists across six countries, reveals concern about fake news and public trust in the news media. As a result, journalists are asking “PR professional…to provide accurate, newsworthy information.”

Do yourself and legitimate news media outlets a favor by following that advice.

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.