27 Jun DC Media Share Ten PR Tips for Tech Entrepreneurs
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to moderate MindShare’s annual “Meet the Press” program featuring four local reporters who cover the business and technology community.
First, what is MindShare? Launched in 1997, the organization handpicks 50 to 60 CEOs every year from the DC area’s hottest emerging growth companies to come together in a private, intimate setting. Its mission is to help CEOs build long-term, sustainable companies by creating opportunities for growth, building a sense of community, and fostering teamwork in a professional environment.
Each meeting features a different speaker or panel of experts, with topics including raising capital, hiring the best talent, sales, marketing, and finance among others. CEOs who attend at least five of the eight sessions will graduate, and join the 1000+ alumni from the organization that continue to foster discussions and provides support for one another. Lisa Throckmorton and I are both on the organizing board, and this event is usually one of the best attended every year.
In the rest of this post, I’d like to share some information about the panelists and the types of stories they like to write, and then I’ll share the top tips I pulled from our discussion.
The media participants included:
Stephen Babcock, Market Editor, Technical.ly Baltimore and Technical.ly DC.
Technical.ly grows local technology communities by connecting organizations and people through news, events and services. They serve technologists, entrepreneurs and people who care about technology’s local impact.
What stories does Stephen look for? Stephen likes to be out in the community meeting and talking to people. Technical.ly does publish profile pieces if a company is hiring or doing something new and interesting. He loves to cover local founders in DC and the process of entrepreneurship.
Deborah Barrington, Managing Editor, CIODive
The mission of CIODive is to provide busy professionals with a bird’s-eye-view of the tech industry in 60 seconds. They cover industry news and provide original analysis.
What stories does Deborah look for? Deborah’s best ideas come from brainstorming with her internal team. The team may come up with a unique twist on a popular theme and then start calling sources. They cover tech but aren’t immersed in tech. CIODive is unlikely to profile a company, but Deborah is always on the hunt for expert sources that can talk about industry trends.
Kim Hart, Managing Editor, Axios
Axios is a new media company delivering vital, trustworthy news and analysis in the most efficient, illuminating and shareable ways possible. They offer a mix of original and narrated coverage of media trends, tech, business and politics with expertise, voice and smart brevity— on a new and innovative mobile platform.
What stories does Kim look for: Axios focuses on aggregating news and adding some analysis; however, they are increasingly looking for original news. Kim does skim press releases to look for trends and patterns. She’s not likely to write a company profile unless it’s illustrative of a broader story.
Andy (Andrew) Medici, Money Reporter, Washington Business Journal
The Washington Business Journal is a business-to-business weekly newspaper read by 60,000 Washington-area business executives. It features local people and decision makers who are leaders in their business communities. They report on local and national issues that impact subscriber’s businesses and assist them in growing their companies.
What stories does Andy look for? Andy tries to get stories that don’t get covered elsewhere and seeks to get ahead of the press release. He does occasionally write company profiles – especially if a company is raising money, moving to a new space or going through a merger or acquisition.
After the introductions, the panel shared a lot of great ideas and helpful tips for the MindShare members in attendance. Here’s my attempt to recap the 10 best ideas that came from the discussion.
MindShare’s 10 Best PR Tips for Tech Entrepreneurs
- Subject matter matters. Use the subject line to get a reporter’s attention. Reporters get hundreds of emails every day. They may read the emails they get from a trusted source, but if you don’t fall into that category you’ll need to be creative with your subject line. To break through the clutter, mention a hot trend, a newsworthy topic and make it clear what you have to offer. Kim Hart suggested using a practical subject line such as “Cyber Source Available.”
- Respect reporter deadlines. In a world of 24-hour breaking news, many reporters still have internal deadlines for print or for daily newsletters. Understand a reporter might be busy at the exact time your pitch goes over to him or her. The Washington Business Journal’s main newsletter goes out at 3:00 in the afternoon – and real estate news goes out at noon. Andy usually works on daily stories in the morning and longer-term projects in the afternoon. Understand your reporter’s deadlines and steer clear of those windows of time.
- Don’t stalk reporters. Reporters want to hear from sources, and it’s appropriate to follow up – just don’t do it more than once. If you don’t hear back, assume the reporter isn’t interested and move on. It doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in your next story or pitch.
- Be available. Offer reporters your cell phone number if you want to be a regular source. Timeframes for stories are tight. If a reporter reaches out, understand that they are looking for commentary immediately – usually within a couple of hours for a breaking news story.
- What about the press release? Not every company announcement requires a press release. Consider creating a tiered structure for company news. The biggest, most-newsworthy items would go out on the wire and should be pitched widely. This would include acquisitions, funding announcements, major product announcements, noteworthy new customers or major contract news. Smaller news could be posted on the news section of the website and pitched to a more select list – or not at all. Some of the panelists object to hearing from a company with too much frequency; others were less concerned.
- Time your timing. Many publications publish yearly wrap-ups or prediction pieces in the December/January timeframe. This is a great time to offer your thoughts and suggest possible sources. Hopefully, reporters will file away your contact info for future stories later in the year.
- Customers count. Many reporters would rather talk to customers than vendors. Encourage your customers to talk about their challenges, what worked and what didn’t. Not only does this make for interesting reading, but it sounds less like a testimonial.
- All media matters. Not every company is going to be a fit for The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, but if you’re gunning for top-tier media, understand that reporters rely on Google to research sources just like the rest of us. If a reporter can validate your expertise on a given topic by doing a quick Google search, they are more likely to reach out or respond to your email when writing a story on a similar topic.
- 100% not guaranteed. The team highlighted that when you work with a reporter, the story it out of your control. There’s an inherent gap between sources and journalists and sometimes the outcome isn’t great.
- Pet peeves? The biggest pet peeves differ by journalist: Steve shared that his deadline is 1:00 p.m. so don’t call him then. Deborah talked about how company executives or PR people complain about something in the story after the fact. Also, she’s had people try to “buy a story” by sending flowers or gifts; this puts reporters in an ethical jam. Kim talked about people who pitch her and then aren’t responsive when she replies. And lastly, Andy talked about how he gets pitches all the time that aren’t at all relevant to what he covers or focus on companies outside the DC region.
Thanks to all of our panelists for their outstanding suggestions and to the MindShare members for all of their questions and comments. This is always one of MindShare’s most engaging sessions, and I hope that the discussion was useful to all of the members as they focus on growing their companies.