Engaging with the press – a @MassTLC #unconf

 Courtesy of MassLTC Unconference, I wanted to share a few tips on how to get famous fast through efficient interaction with the press.  

Not all of us can go for the ultimate shortcut a.k.a. the Cort Johnson “Killer Smile” and get straight to the front of the Wall Street Journal.  If you don’t have access to his good looks or amazing teeth whitening technology, read on:It’s for most a frustrating exercise that takes time; a long road to building relationships that generally pays off over years not months.  

Scott Kirsner is running the show, with contributions from David Mearman Scott (as himself),  Kate Castle (Flybridge), Dave Balter (Bzzagent), Laura Fitton (Hubspot) & Matt Lauzon (Gemvara).  Good posse.

The relationship to getting press starts long before you get press.  Here’s a few tips on building relationships with writers:

Key Tips

  1. Deliver value – give them access to someone unique or interesting, help them build it up.  Send them snippets of interesting information unrelated to you but relevant to their current writing. 
  2. Demonstrate empathy and have a customer service mindset.  Reporters need to write, get readers, produce interesting article.  Make their life easier.
  3. Newsjack stories with speed and insight – when you know a big story is coming (Hurricane Sandy, the election), it’s tough to break into that stream. But as a story is breaking, you can insert yourself extremely fast into a developing story, either directly (feeding the reporter) or indirectly (write a story real-time, get indexed, get found and referenced).
  4. Lodge yourself in their brain with a very simple attachment of “your brand / what you do”.  
  5. Don’t talk about your product directly.  Talk about (a) customer stories (b) important problems you product is solving (c) larger trends your company / product fits into.
  6. Don’t push a rock uphill.  If you have no news (new customers) and no angle, don’t harass.
  7. Eliminate the goobledygook: “mission critical”, “groundbreaking”, “disruptive” etc.
  8. Reporters respond well to “heartfelt flattery”.  So flatter them.
  9. Reporters are humans. Find out what they like and dislike in their personal life. Find out what they are interested in and writing about and feed them stories that are not related to you. Help them build their stories.
  10. Negotiate ahead of time: if you want an embargo, make it clear upfront.  Same if you want to limit the scope.

Inside the brain of Scott Kirsner:

  1. Signal:  I listen better to people directly involved (the founder, the VC, the angel, a customer) than people paid to pitch (PR).
  2. In-person connections are where it’s at: I want to see companies in their natural habitat, when they innovate, not when they have a PR agency.
  3. Exclusives: I hate it when Fred Destin lets his stories slip to other outlets
  4. Keep it simple: if you cannot explain to me what you do crisply and intelligently without using 3 letter acronyms, I won’t engage.  Get your cocktail party explanation down !  Don’t assume I’m an insider.
  5. Timeliness is everything: once you have someone hooked for a story or if you want to react to one of my questions, do it real time or do not do it at all.  And be available for the press !
  6. Make sure your milestones are newsworthy: launching product isn’t.  Landing Boeing as a customer, hiring 100 people or getting Jack Welch are.

Do you need a PR agency ?

  1. Own your brand: you can never, ever outsource who you are and what your brand is.  PR is a leverage function, not an outsourced service.
  2. Bottom line : not when you are an early stage company.  You need to own your storytelling, your early communication successes, and there is no value in paying $15K a month for the privilege.
  3. If and when you do some of the following, you need one:  your name is General Petraeus, you’re about to go public, you’re trying to get on Oprah, you’re getting sued by the SEC.  Not to craft your story (which would imply you’re not doing your job), but for the meaningful relationships they bring to the table.
  4. Reference agencies like crazy, and ask reporters as to who they like to work with.  They’re the best source of cred scores for PR agencies.

Oh, and finally, it’s much easier to become famous for the right reasons: be passionate about something meaningul, build it beautifully, delight your users or clients, and let the press come to you.

Don’t be famous for the wrong reasons :-) 

boy in balloon

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