Ask anyone in the media industry about “quote approval” — when sources or interview subjects request to see and approve their quotations before they are printed — and you’re sure to get a heated response. After-the-fact quote approval is an issue that’s vexed everyone from the White House press corps, which is obliged to abide by it by the Obama administration, to the Harvard Crimson, which has been firing back at university administrators who insist on it. The New York Times, National Journal, and others have banned the practice. It’s a huge dilemma for publishers desperate for access. Should it be on the minds of brand publishers, too?
Yes… but for different reasons. Brand publishers should permit quote approval for quotations coming from their own senior executives or from key, potentially strategic partners and customers. But content marketing, given its purpose, is particularly susceptible to suffering from too much oversight. Being too permissive with after-the-fact quote approval can be one of the fastest way to turn creative and innovative content marketing into glorified press releases.
Content marketing holds a unique position in the written world. In my years working on branded content projects I’ve learned a valuable lesson: branded content campaigns often fall under the strict purview of marketing compliance regulations, no matter how much I want them to be pure journalism endeavors. That often means coordinating with lawyers, navigating complicated approval processes, and—simply—playing by different rules.
If a writer on a content marketing project authors a piece that includes quotes from key figures in the brand’s organization or important partners, the writer would most likely want to get those quotes approved by the people who gave them. There’s nothing worse than brand publishing efforts getting torpedoed after a senior executive feels like he was misrepresented.
In many situations, compliance regulations (often the ones that govern public companies) will force a brand publisher to get explicit permission for a quote being used by a source. It’s very much a gray area, but most large brands that I’ve worked with tend to err on the side of caution (as they should). In that situation, the writer has no choice but to get the story’s quotes approved by the source.
But if a writer isn’t in one of the situations described above, then it’s probably time to start thinking like a traditional publisher. And that means eschewing after-the-fact quote approval.
Permitting quote approval can lead a brand publisher on a slippery slope towards publishing glorified press releases.
Quote approval is dangerous because it can kill a story. If a writer agrees to let sources alter and pull quotes, they risk losing the most interesting and enlightening parts of the piece—or even the key discovery that makes it worth reading. Permitting quote approval can lead a brand publisher on a slippery slope towards publishing glorified press releases.
None of any brand’s Twitter followers or Facebook fans want to read a press release.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to meet sources halfway and let them see their quotes. Bloomberg Legal Reporter Bob Van Voris spoke to Contently on this subject in April. “Especially with an expert, I’ll always let them see a quote,” said Van Voris. “I won’t say that they can take it back or change it — my reporting belongs to me — but especially for an expert, where it’s not an adversarial point of view, you want to make them look smart.”
“I’ll run the quotes and I won’t give you approval,” Van Voris continued, “but I’ll shoot you the quotes, but if I missed the quote or ran it out of context, shoot me a line and we’ll talk about it.”
Such an attitude will help brand writers develop strong relationships with great sources without sacrificing journalistic credibility.
Ultimately, brand publishing occupies a strange space: one with the dreams of great journalism but the confines of marketing compliance. Brands and the writers they employ should shoot for the highest standards whenever possible, and that means avoiding quote approval whenever they can — and whenever their legal department permits them to.