Dealing with the media is a necessary evil if you want to get yourself noticed.
I’m a tech journalist and freelance writer. I talk to hundreds of SMEs, start-ups, fortune 500 companies, investors and industry experts every year. I receive thousands of press releases and invitations to events. I find that many businesses, especially those just starting out, make the same mistakes again and again.
Here are the most common mistakes and how to avoid them:
Don’t: crush us with your enthusiasm
You have something you want to get promoted It might be for example, a recent achievement, a new product or upcoming event. You email a five-page press release via pdf with lots of photos then proceed to email the journalist everyday asking for an interview.
Do: spark our interest
A journalist is a story teller. We strive to write compelling text that engages our readers. What we need from you is pretty simple, concise information. I know one editor who told me they only read each email pitch or press release down to where they are required to scroll page down. If we’re interested, we’ll reach out for more. Think about answering these questions with a sentence or two for each:
- Who are you?
- What’s your product/event?
- What problem does it solve?
- Who are your competitors? (Don’t say you have no competitors; we check)
- What’s your point of difference to them?
Don’t: jump on the bandwagon
It may seem tempting to write to the journalists who have previously covered your brief (e.g. 10 textiles designers from Oakland to watch) but believe me, all it will do is annoy them. No journalist is going to pitch the same article to their editor again for at least a few months. It’s even worse if this contact comes from a PR professional who really should know better!
Do: send a friendly note
It doesn’t hurt to contact a journalist complementing them on their article (most writers are more likely to get comments or attention if there are typos). Feel free to introduce yourself and offer to show them around Oakland when they’re next in the area. Maybe you have a point of difference to the those featured? Offer a different perspective or angle or the story and we just might revisit it in the future.
Don’t: be too mysterious
You’ve got a Squarespace website that you created with your designer friend. Images are stark black and white and you think it looks awesome, and mysterious.
Do: provide useful information.
Don’t make it hard for us to learn about you. We’re not always going to reach out and ask, especially if we’re doing a round up article where we want quick info (e.g. 10 devices that make travelling easier). You’d be surprised how many company websites fail to provide the names of staff, their job titles and respective contact details, let alone any meaningful company information. I viewed the website of a VR video game maker recently and the words VR and video game weren’t mentioned at all. When I asked him how people (customers, investors, media) would know what they did, he was unable to answer.
A concise website that includes sections like ‘about us’, ‘staff’, ‘what we do’ and ‘contact details’ is a must. Even a well written Facebook page or WordPress site will do for early days.
If you really want to include a list of your staff accompanied by manga or South Park cartoon characters, that’s fine, but how about a link to their linked in profiles? The common sentiment is that any contact us boxes or [email protected] email addresses simply languish to be occasionally read by the intern, so do us a favor and provide the email address for your media liaison or marketing member of staff.
Don’t: ignore attention to detail
So many new businesses fail to develop a press kit or create one full of irrelevant information.
Do: be presentable.
Put simply, a press kit is a collection of resources relevant to journalists and people who want to know more about you. Think of it like a resume for your company. But it’s not a pitch deck so don’t put include content asking for investment. Instead focus on:
- Information about the company.
- Current/recent press releases.
- Information about your latest product/event/award/release.
- Quotes from senior management or clients.
- Recent press publications and articles.
- High resolution images of your product.
We always want photos that we can use in our article. Photos should be text free and logo free. We really don’t want to spent the time before deadline trawling through your Facebook and linkedin pages looking for a suitable image.
Remember: Never send a press release as an email attachment, most journalists won’t open one from an unknown sender for fear of viruses etc., use a service like DropBox instead.
Don’t: spread yourself too thin
You have an event/crowdfunding campaign or product launch coming up. You send an email to every journalist you can find, not to mention tweeting at them and a message on LinkedIn
Do: Be selective.
Learn what media sources might be a good fit. A journalist that writes about cars doesn’t want a press release from you about your latest music. It goes straight into the delete box.
Don’t stalk us
I’ve had PR people and businesses send me daily emails wanting to know when I piece will be published-sometimes accompanied by friend requests on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Writers have no control over publication dates. Sometimes an editor will refuse a piece for reasons they are unable to share like deals with advertisers or competitors that provide sponsored content. (As readers expect online content for free, this is just the way it goes).
Do: politely enquire when the piece will go to press.
Keep us updated with your progress in case we are able to freshen up the article before it goes to press a few weeks/months later.
Don’t email us every week
We might have written about your first product but it doesn’t mean we’re in a position to write about every single update. Think about how else you can stay relevant and on our radar.
Do: build an ongoing relationship.
As journalists we’re genuinely passionate about what we do. Whilst we may not be experts on the minutiae of every topic we cover, we do talk to lots of people every day, and thus we’re in a great position to champion you and your cause to others if you impress us.
Whilst I can’t necessarily write about the same topic twice, I’m always looking for trend analysis, commentary on topical issues (especially if you can offer a solution or different perspective), end of year wrap ups and predictions into the following year. I usually email the most interesting companies I’ve spoken to seeking this information. Make it easy for us by offering your expertise.
Ultimately the relationship between businesses and journalists can be rewarding for both parties. Both sectors are committed to the work that they do and with some forethought and planning, you can make your business highly attractive to the press.