Chris Dixon has one of the best posts I’ve seen on how startups should deal with the press. I added a few items in his comments, but thought they were worthy of sharing here.
I sit in a weird spot: although many consider me to be press, I also talk to a lot of other media outlets. I’m often quoted in national newspapers and magazines and regularly appear on TV. This happens partly because I have something interesting to stay; it’s also partly because I treat people how I like to be treated.
Here are my top tips for dealing with the press (including me):
- Learn about the news outlet and the specific person you’re approaching. Every outlet has a specific feel and each person with an outlet has their own coverage area, interests and motivations. Read their stuff and figure it out. Nothing will fall flatter than a bulk email sent to every “tips@” account that begins “Dear reporter”. Learn what each person values. In my case, I don’t really care that much about being first on a story. I add the most value when I do deep analysis. I’m a data and numbers guy; if you have those, I’m more likely to dig in.
- Build relationships before you need them. This is similar to the career advice people get for networking. Follow the people you’re interested in on Twitter. If they tweet something where you can help, offer it. Even if it doesn’t relate to what you do. Offer them access to your network if you know someone who can answer a question.
- Maintain relationships after you have them. Keep in touch with people on an ongoing basis. I don’t mean daily or weekly, but keep in touch as appropriate.
- Be fast. Reporters are often on tight deadlines. And in the blog world, a lot of people value being first. The faster you return a call or email, the more likely it is that you’ll be included in the story.
- Be brief. Get to the point. Your pitch shouldn’t ramble on for pages.
- Be interesting. If you speak in PRese, it’s a lot less interesting. Avoid cliches like “We’re the leading…” Everyone claims to be the leader — except the real leaders. When I’m preparing for an interview, I’ll come up with two or three lines that are interesting, sharp and brief to make it easier to quote.
- Be patient. Depending on the story, somebody might run a piece weeks or months after they talk to you. (I often do this.) In the meantime, it’s OK to follow up periodically if there were updates to what you said or things that the reporter should be aware of. I once did a taped segment for Bloomberg that didn’t air until weeks later. Better reporters will let you know after they use something if there’s been a long delay. (Emily did.)
- Don’t expect too much. Just because you spent 30 minutes on the phone with a reporter doesn’t mean they’ll use what you said. Sometimes the news changes and the story isn’t relevant anymore; in other cases, they found other people to quote. That’s just part of the news business. I do quite a few interviews where I don’t get quoted — but it goes back to building relationships. I genuinely want to help people tell better stories.
- Realize that we talk to each other. Although we compete, we also chat. If you’re an ass to someone, it will get around.
- Engage with your critics. This is a controversial one, but I wholeheartedly believe this. I regularly write about two companies in the same space and I’m extremely critical of both. One refuses to talk to me; the other responds within minutes. The second one gets to tell its side of the story and influence my opinion. Both the company and the reading public are better served by having the conversation. The company gets better coverage — not because there is a quid pro quo, but because the dialogue leads to better analysis. And because most of the people who cover the space talk to me (see #9), it helps their overall coverage.
- UPDATE: Never, ever lie. In order of preference, I want: True, technically true and no comment. The best PR folks never lie. (And the best management teams don’t lie to their PR folks.) If you lie to me and I find out, it creates another story. It also means I won’t ever trust anything you say again. See also, #9.
A journalist’s job is to bring interesting and informative stories to readers, not to promote your company. If you help them do their job, you’ll do much better at your job.