Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Handle with care #2: Technology journalists

Absolutely ages ago I wrote a post containing a wonderful guide to handling technology PR people. At the end of it, it seemed like a good idea to turn the concept into a series, and promised a similar guide for handling journalists.

Since then, a lot has happened in the mediasphere. Twitter has taken off like a rocket, sort-of-but-not-really revolutionising how information flows across the various peaks and valleys of the media landscape. There are some journalists who - get this - would rather be pitched via the immediate, concise and infinitely portable Twitter than receiving a phone call asking them if they received an email featuring and attachment containing your press release. Fancy that!

Elsewhere, people are giving up on journalists as a 'dying breed'. As the Press Gazette closes in a puff of poorly-written PR, journalists are allegedly scratching around, starving and confused, for morsels of work from the remaining publications who are apparently only accepting free vendor content anyway. Don't worry, none of this is true.

In reality, journalism is alive and well and adapting to the new communication channels of 2009. The websites of the big publishing houses are better than they've ever been and, while there have been some closures, there have also been launches.

So, fear not dear technology PR or marketing person. There are still people out there that might want to listen. The only challenge left facing you is knowing how to handle them. Hang on a minute... I know! How about a handy guide?

Seven tips for handling technology journalists:

1. Be confident. Despite the fact that you've been sick three times and are now cowering under your desk merely at the thought of having to call one, technology journalists don't actually know that much more about technology than you do. Stop crying and trust me - and start with a backgrounder on your client and what they do first, because they probably can't recall much about them.
2. Don't ask them how much they know about your client. Most of them will say "assume nothing" rather than have to dredge their tired minds for the time they once met the ex-ex-CEO over a foul coffee at a trade show to discuss a product or service that the company hasn't sold for two years, in a market they now deny being part of.
3. Respect their deadlines. To you, a deadline is something that a client gives you arbitrarily, and a couple of hours often won't make much difference. To a journalist, it's the fundamental lifeblood of their existence. If you miss it, or - even worse - miss it and then send your material / set up the interview after the deadline has passed without acknowledging that you're late, you really need to reconsider your career choice.
4. Avoid being patronising. Contrary to popular belief, journalists are actually paid money to work. Inviting them to lunch to hear about your client's integration-optimised, end-to-end business process management analytics solution isn't doing them a favour. They could afford to buy a nice sandwich themselves, so it's fair to say they're coming because they're interested. Tell them something interesting, and thank them for coming.
5. Don't say 'thanks'. Thanking a journalist for writing a nice piece about your client is like telling the NUJ and all their colleagues that they've just taken a bung to reproduce your press release and ignore how much money the CTO just embezzled through his Swiss bank account. Writing stories on their own merit is what they do. They don't write to make you thankful.
6. Give. There are many things you can give a journalist to make their stories better. Give them decent spokespeople. Give them appropriate-resolution images of these spokespeople that someone other than the spokesperson has taken of themself, in a place other than the office car park. Give them good copy. Give them good stories. Give them ideas. Give them a call back.
7. Give a sh*t about their readers. Sorry for the bad language, but the journalist you're about to call has just slammed the phone down to someone pitching them a story about UPVC guttering, or giraffes. Do you know the demographic of the readership of the publication? Have you even read it? Ever? If you haven't, go and read it. Otherwise, you're about to hear much worse language from the other end of the line...

Oh, I almost forgot. Coming up next in this series-that-I'm-happy-I've-actually-gone-and-turned-into-a-series...

Clients.