Dancing with the Devil… aka Talking to the Press

On many, many occasions I’ve heard horror stories from fellow entrepreneurs about their experiences with the press.

Most journalists are decent enough folks that just need a good story.  For example, since moving to RTP, I’ve worked with Allan Maurer at TechJournal South and Anne Krishnan of the News and Observer.  Both have been professional, capable and a pleasure to work with.

For the record, I consider Bloggers to be Journalists.  Old Media snobs should get off their high horse on this one.  Sure, some bloggers suck, but so do some journalists.  Moving along…

The problems entrepreneurs experience are more often the result of mistakes by the entrepreneur than negative intentions on the part of the journalist.  It’s back to assumptions being the mother of all “screwups”.

So with that in mind, here are some thoughts on working with the press.  I guess I’ll be splitting this up into two posts as it’s getting pretty long already.

Let’s start with WHY and WHO.  I’ll address what and how in part two

So why do you want coverage?  Who is the target audience? 

WHY
“Why” is a big deal.  Don’t even contact the press unless you have a good story (or are laying the groundwork for a good story).  And a good story is one that someone other than you or your Mom will find interesting.

Remember: The journalist’s primary job is to tell interesting stories that will get the attention of readers.  For example, we recently had a small article in TechJournal South.  I called Allan because we had made progress with fund-raising, added some well know individuals to our board, and are entering beta with our first product.  That’s a lot of positive news that makes for a good short story.  I wouldn’t have called him just to highlight that we were almost ready to start our external beta program.

I wanted the news out there for several reasons:

a)    We’re talking to a number of investors locally and nationally.  Some of them read TechJournal South, so it’s a good way to remind them who we are and stay on their minds.
b)    There are some investors we’re not talking to, but will be talking to soon.  Again, this helps build some mindshare.
c)    We’re very grateful to our board members and wanted to say thank you in a public venue.
d)    We will soon be looking for additional beta sites within the local community – this helps lay some groundwork for that too.

So the “why” was pretty clear this time around.

WHO

There are two sides to “who”. Who are you going to work with and who is your story aimed at.  There is no point trying to target potential investors with a story if it doesn’t appear somewhere they’re likely to see it.  No matter what your story, the audience dictates which journalists you talk to.

There are some media outlets that cover many bases, like TechCrunch.  In the world of tech, investors, customers, bloggers, entrepreneurs and software engineers ALL read TechCrunch..

Figure out who you want to talk to, but before you talk to a particular journalist, read some of what they’ve written.  If their articles seem overly negative, dirt digging or otherwise unnecessarily unfavorable, don’t take the interview.  Bear in mind that some companies actually deserve bad press, but if the journalist seems to repeatedly emphasize the worst, avoid them.

In today’s world of millions of media outlets, if there’s a journalist you don’t want to talk to, you don’t have to.  Ten years ago, you needed the magazines that your customers or partners might read.  Today, there are so many ways for your target to get information that it is no longer as critical.

Back in the days of Black and White TV and MS-DOS, I worked for a company in the Computer Aided Design software space.  There were two primary magazines that almost everyone we wanted to reach would read: Catalyst and Cadence (the former has long since acquired the latter).  If you weren’t on good terms with both magazines, you were in trouble.

But now, with blogs and online advertising, there are many many outlets for your story that will still reach your customers.

SUMMARY

Rule #1:  Figure out what your story is and be objective about whether it is really news-worthy.

Rule #2: Know who your audience is and pick the right outlets for the story

Rule #3: If you don’t like the publication or the journalist, pass on the interview.  Unless you’re the mysterious third founder of Google, they probably have plenty of other folks to talk to.  But unless you’re convinced you want to burn that bridge forever, handle it carefully and don’t expect to waltz right in the next time you want to talk to them.

I’ll get to how to proceed from here in the next installment… Coming soon…