How NOT to engage tech journalists

  • What works for bloggers doesn’t necessarily work for journalists
  • No set of rules about how to interact with the media

How NOT to engage tech journalistsRECENTLY, there’s been a spate of ‘How you can seduce journalists so they write about you’ type stories being carried on websites that cover the tech startup space.
 
There’s good advice and then there’s advice that’s not applicable. And again, a distinction must be made between journalists and bloggers.
 
Why? Because what works for bloggers doesn’t necessarily work for journalists; and bloggers, a distinct category of their own, enjoy their own peculiar set of predilections.
 
There are articles clearly written from a blogger’s perspective, but with the use of the term ‘journalist’ in some headlines. This may inadvertently lead startups and their public relations people to think that journalists can even be approached this way.
 
Let me start by saying that there isn’t any set of rules about how to interact with the media etched in stone, brought down from a top a mountain and diligently passed down through generations.
 
When you see these how-to articles, it is best to consider it a guide to the author’s personal wish list for how he or she would like to be approached.
 
For general application, consume with a pinch of salt, and only take advice that makes sense to you. If it doesn’t, exercise your right to ignore it.
 
There are some common rules widely accepted by most journalists as proper etiquette, but this is not going to be a column about what you should do, but rather, what you should not do.
 
What you’re about to read is my small attempt to address some self-indulgent and irresponsible statements I’ve seen floating around, about how startups should deal with ‘journalists.’
 
No, you shouldn’t state in your invite, in bold, that some big shot CEO (chief executive officer) is attending your event and that you can introduce me to them. Just stating that they’re going is enough.
 
We don’t need your help. I’d probably be laughed out of the newsroom if I needed a middleman to get to a CEO at an event – especially if it didn’t take place in a secret underground military base.
 
No, recommending me for #FollowFriday will not score you any points and it’s not 2010 anymore.
 
Sure, I’m flattered when it happens, but I’d rather someone do that because they genuinely like my flavour of crazy, not because they want me to write about them.
 
No, getting your employees to follow me on Twitter when their interests do not coincide with my content is not a wise move. It feels like that desperate guy who gets his friends to vouch for him with some girl at a party.
 
How NOT to engage tech journalistsNo, telling rookie journalists in an email invite that their industry seniors are going to be at an event and offering an introduction will not get you the love you were expecting. Unless said senior was a Pulitzer Prize winner, that is.
 
No, telling me things I can’t publish will not get me excited about your startup. Yes, it is a mark of the level of trust you have in me, and we value that trust, but such knowledge will not mean that “passion will shine through in more mundane things” I write about you.
 
It is naïve to expect compliance just because you prefaced some earth-shattering information with “off the record, yah!”
 
If anything the only passion it will ignite is the desire to write about the so-called ‘forbidden.’ Even if the journalist decides to honour the off-the-record label, all you’ve done is give us a tip, which we will patiently try to verify or confirm either via research or other, independent sources.
 
No, you should never invite a journalist to work at your office. And no, it is in no way akin to having a journalist embedded with troops in a conflict zone.
 
The art of doing business may be similar to the art of war but it is still not war. Sure, having a journalist or blogger get a glimpse of how your startup works will inform their writing about it, but to have them ‘embedded’ with your team with an all-access pass is just inviting trouble.
 
Great when good things happen. Are you ready for when things go wrong though? You can try all you want to get a journalist to not write about the day they witnessed a massive systematic failure of your entire enterprise or product – but good bloody luck, buddy.
 
We’re not in this to be your friends, and we will report a bad-news story with as much fervour and commitment as we do a good-news story.
 
And no, trying to bribe us with freebies or promising us an exclusive on the next ‘big’ story will not do the trick, not when there’s a massive story staring us right in the face complete with time-stamped Instagram shot.
 
Look, the only hard and fast rule any startup founder should adhere to when it comes to media relations is one that can be applied to pretty much all professions and industries: Be professional, polite and to the point.
 
Everything else boils down to: Do you get along with them well enough as an individual? Do you respect their work? Respect the publication they represent? Do you trust them to write fair and accurate stories about you?
 
Trying to treat journalists the same way you’d treat reality TV stars or superstar bloggers will not get you very far, if at all.
 
To quote one wise old man whom I call boss: You can perhaps seduce bloggers, but journalists have to be convinced your startup or business is worth writing about.
 
This column originally appeared in the Metro Biz section of The Star and is reprinted here with its kind permission.
 
Related Stories:
 
Journos and bloggers revisited: What’s the diff?
 
Disrupt on media relations: Know your audience, do your homework
 
PR folk are from Venus, the media is from Mars
 
Unhealthy relationships: PR, bloggers and the media
 
PR strategies: Do you really need to suck up?
 
 
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