Talking to the Press, Part 2…

Last time I talked about the who and why of talking to the press.  Let’s get on with the “how”.

The key thing, and I can’t emphasize this enough, is to figure out exactly what you want to say

You have a story to tell.  Figure out what it is and stay on it.  Before you talk to the journalist, make sure you practice.  Go through every point in your head and do it multiple times.  A press interview is no different to a pitch or other kind of presentation, and it always pays to practice.

Make bullet point notes for yourself and follow them.  Don’t get drawn off-topic and don’t get flustered.  It’s okay to say “we’re not interested in promoting that aspect of our business just yet”, or “we’re more focused on what’s ahead for us as a company” or something else appropriate.  Do not lose your cool – even the nicest journalist doesn’t take kindly to being yelled at.

Remember, your story helps them keep and attract readers, but they are doing you a favor by covering your news.

If you do get off-topic, circle back the first chance you get and stick to your outline. 

You also want to prioritize the bullet points and get a clear idea of how long the interview will last.  There’s nothing worse than running out of time only to realize that you didn’t cover the most important point you wanted to make.

Bear in mind that journalists are mostly regular people.  Some like to talk more than others, and most are pretty easy going.  Assuming you took my previous advice and have a good story to tell, they’ll be happy to talk with you.  Sometimes they will err on the side of what they believe to be a good story, but most won’t take a negative stance or “dig for dirt” unless there is a better story in there.

If your company has some wacky history (I’ve had my share of those), and the journalist digs in that direction, just be firm and polite and stay on target.

Again, as I said previously, read pieces that the journalist has written.  If they are consistently and overly negative, don’t seek or take the interview.

Sometimes what appeals to the journalist isn’t what you wanted to focus
on.  As long as it’s not negative or majorly off-topic, be flexible.
Don’t be overly stubborn – if the journalist isn’t biting on a minor
detail (“but we’re the first calendaring app entirely written in
python”) let it go.  As long as you got your main points across, it’s
all good.

Quite often, your story may work better within a broader article rather
than a stand-alone piece.  That’s okay too.  While being the only one
in the spotlight is great, you will almost definitely reach a broader
audience in an article that features other companies.

Again, focus on what you’re trying to achieve.  If the interview no longer serves your purpose, politely withdraw.

Respect their time – if you agree to be available at a certain time, make sure you’re free of interruptions.  If it’s a short interview, get to the point quickly.

What next? 
You’ve picked your targets, told your story and the interview is done.  What happens next?

Again, it’s critical to make sure you’re on the same page and have realistic expectations. 

It is reasonable to ask to see the piece before it is made public.  Some journalists are okay with this, some aren’t.  It’s more common for this to be agreed to with print publications – it’s so much more expensive to make corrections when something ends up in physical form.

It is categorically not okay to expect to be able to do a wholesale edit on the article, or to attempt to change the journalist’s opinions as expressed in the article. 

You can request corrections to factual errors, such as incorrect names or clearly factually incorrect information (“we raised money from VC Firm A” when it was actually Firm B).  But just as you would be insulted if an outsider told you how to do your job, you should not expect a journalist to change the article because there’s something you don’t like about it.

For example, Allan at TechJournal South does not typically let companies preview a piece before it goes out on their site, but he will quickly and diligently make any necessary corrections to factual errors.

I, for one, think that is perfectly fine.

Once everything is wrapped, there’s often some delay before it is released in to the wild.  Blogs can turn stories around in minutes.  Daily newspapers can turn a story around in a day or so.  A glossy magazine doing a feature article may have a lead time of 3+ months.

When the piece hits, whatever the venue, make sure you get a copy.  And make sure you keep an archive of all the coverage you get.  This is especially applicable to online coverage – you’d be surprised how often online articles go missing.

One last thing… If you do have a press disaster on your hands, react, don’t hide.  It is unlikely to go away and it will definitely NOT go away if you handle it badly.  Beware the Streisand Effect! You have been warned…

But that’s about all there is to it.  Just like many other aspects of business, it is not rocket science.  You just need a little planning and an idea of your goal.

So in summary:

  1. Figure out who you are trying to reach
  2. Identify your story
  3. Tell your story
  4. Keep copies of the results

Good luck!