A typical high-tech reporter receives something like 100-200 story pitches each and every day. As a result, PR professionals are faced with the difficult, if not seemingly impossible, task of cutting through the noise and clutter to help clients gain mindshare from journalists and to ultimately secure positive coverage.
Obviously, this means that tech PR pros are faced with the challenge of how to break through with reporters and where to begin, particularly if they’re new to the profession or working with a client that isn’t well-established. I would argue that one of the easiest ways to build an effective media relations practice is also pretty simple—work on being useful to reporters.
The benefits of the “utility” approach become quite clear when one thinks of the pressures that reporters face and their resulting need for reliable and trustworthy partners on the PR side. As the saying goes, “it takes a village,” and accepting some level of support from the PR community simply helps reporters do their jobs more effectively. Being useful takes many forms, and it can be a PR pro’s secret weapon in the area of tech media relations.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Nov. '21 Technology PR Magazine
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Being useful starts with being reliable. This of course means returning calls, e-mails and other messages, including those delivered via networking and social platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter, promptly and completely. One never knows when a simple on-deadline fact-checking request just might turn into a bigger story or when being the first to call back means that your client’s products, perspective or executive quote is included in a story. This is why being reliable matters and why PR people owe it to themselves to bring their “A game” all of the time when it comes to scrupulous and diligent follow-up with journalists.
Being an ongoing, helpful resource for background information is similarly useful in building journalist relationships. Proactively offering industry stats or specialized data, as well as information in the form of company expertise or technical subject matter experts, will build credibility and respect. In addition, our firm is a big believer in primary research to create news hooks and sharing the current state of a given industry through empirical data, which is a proven technique to gain and keep the attention of reporters. By offering useful industry data without expectation of “quid pro quo” coverage, your company or client will be positioned as a thought leader and viewed as a neutral, honest provider of meaningful industry intelligence. And more likely than not, when the next coverage opportunity arises, reporters who have seen your research will think of you and make the call.
Another key best practice around making oneself useful—going hand-in-hand with being an honest broker—is sharing compelling information with journalists first. This may take the form of offering key industry news tidbits, sharing advance news when appropriate and/or offering journalists the opportunity to break news or pre-run an announcement. It can also include offering special extras and value-adds around a given story, such as a unique infographic or an executive sit-down interview, as part of the media relations process.
Respect for journalists’ time is also critical in tech PR, and a big part of being useful is making yourself available for journalists on their timetable, not yours. This may mean early morning or late evening calls and managing multiple schedules across numerous individual calendars and time zones. As we know, schedule coordination around media availabilities is a big part of a PR person’s job, especially when one is dealing with fast-moving news or events that require management of both spokespeople and the deadline-driven schedules of reporters. While it seems obvious to state that this is just part of the job, many PR practitioners would be well-advised to focus on better executing this basic function, because it will bear fruit in the form of media results.
Similarly, it’s important that PR people not waste journalists’ time with non-news. This translates to concise, on-target pitches that focus on a reporter’s actual beat and interests! It’s definitely not spamming every reporter under the sun with a pitch or a news announcement just to make up the numbers. Forcing journalists to sort through questionable pitch e-mails causes media relations efforts to be more difficult across the board. Not only does it waste everyone’s time, but it also gives PR people a bad name. If a PR pro becomes associated with these shoddy pitches, chances are good that even their best and most appropriate news will be ignored.
Another path to building allies in the media is to be a consistent advocate and cheerleader for the work of journalists that are in your orbit. In practical terms, this means actually reading their work and offering positive, thoughtful commentary and feedback when and where appropriate. Most reporters will appreciate the perspective of communications pros who are in the industry that they cover, and they will be more likely to recognize—and read—your pitches when it becomes clear that you’re actually paying attention. In the same vein, many successful tech PR pros have grown in their careers in parallel with various reporters and editors over the years. As a result, being supportive of someone when they’re a junior reporter is likely to be remembered positively, creating professional camaraderie and friendships that can last for entire careers.
While the above-mentioned best practices and advice might be considered unglamorous, I truly believe that focusing on these basics can provide a pathway to success in the “real world” of tech PR media relations. These solutions require only thoughtfulness and some effort on the part of the PR practitioner, and implementing them can and will grow your portfolio of media relationships, helping to gain more, and more impactful, media coverage.
Curtis Sparrer is co-Founder and Principal at Bospar.