Last night, a near-capacity crowd of people passionate about the web congregated at the WebInno23 event at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge. There were a number of interesting companies making their pitches, including The Idea Startup, Happn.in, and Book of Odds. It was a great event all around, but my favorite part was the journalist panel on “An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Bootstrapping PR.” The real title could have been more bluntly named, “How to effectively reach journalists and get them to write about you without wasting money on PR people.”
The panel was a who’s who of distinguished innovation economy regional journalists: Peter Kafka (AllThingsD), Scott Kirsner (Boston Globe), Wade Roush (Xconomy), and Bob Brown (Network World). Despite the varied backgrounds, they all seemed to be in agreement on most issues:
The Best Way to Reach Journalists
It turns out, journalists are just like regular people; if you want someone to help you out, they’re more likely to do so if they personally know you. Peter Kafka recommended getting a referral from someone he trusts; if they’re excited about it, then he will be as well. However, en lieu of such a connection, they all agreed that speaking to them face to face at an event or a conference is the best way to make them interested in your company. The also emphasized that the meeting needs to be natural; they don’t like it when PR people or others grab someone and try to force an interaction. Just thinking logically about reaching them this way, it makes a lot of sense. Are you more likely to help someone if you were randomly messaged by them on LinkedIn or if you met them in person before?
Tips for Blogging
If you’re going to blog, you need to be passionate about what you’re blogging about and blogging itself. A number of the panelists mentioned checking company and founder blogs to start a story. If it isn’t current, they’re less likely to be interested and as Scott Kirsner said he’d hate to be at a company and have to ask, “‘What’s happened since your last post on July 23rd?'” Bottom line: Write regularly and with passion or don’t blog at all.
Best Hooks for Journalists
If you want a journalist to write about you, you need to give them something they find interesting to write about. These are what they said were the most likely items to be written about:
1) If your company gets a new leader (Someone was likely removed)
2) If you just completed a big round of financing
3) If you’re an established company making a significant change in direction for the company
4) If you have a major product being released (NOT version 188.8.131.52)
5) If you tie to a hot topic or are taking on an industry giant (David vs. Goliath is always a good story)
No surprises here. What else does a company do that others might really want to read about?
Thoughts on Embargoes and Exclusives
The general feeling was that embargoes are a dying concept. With sites like TechCrunch breaking news as soon as they can find it and others “accidentally” breaking stories early, there’s not a lot of incentive to wait. The panelists were mainly concerned with spending a great deal of time on an article only to be beaten to the story by another site. They also posed the question, “Why do you need everything to break at the exact same time?”
A similar feeling was echoed for exclusives. Unless it’s a really unique and deep story, being exclusive isn’t a big deal to the journalists; they said they understand an entrepreneur has to try to get their story out. Their main thoughts seemed to focus on the fact that you really just need to understand your desired audience for a story. Sites like Gizmodo will get you a mention and a quick paragaph, but to have a full story told, you’ll want to target a journalist.
The main message of the event seemed to focus on three concepts: personal relationships, passion and personality. They all get spammed by PR firms trying to convince them to write a story and press releases filled with gobbledegook. Neither is likely to get a story actually written. Instead, they want to get to know you and your company personally. As Bob Brown said, “Put away your powerpoints and put you and your company’s personality in front of us.” They also want to see your passion and personality come through in the content on your site, your blog and your tweets. These places are where you can control your message and may even attract interest from journalists (David Meerman Scott and Hubspot would be so proud).
In the end, journalists are just like everyone else; they want to be treated like a colleague, hear interesting stories and get to know you and what you’re passionate about. PR people are still very important for companies for a lot of other duties, but for a new startup trying to get press, the panelists don’t believe they can help much.