Media Relations 101: Veteran Tech Reporter Provides His Take on Subject Lines, Press Releases and The Constant Influx of “Bring Your Own Device” Pitches

by Affect Team on June 19, 2012

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When it comes to getting media relations right, there’s nothing like hearing best practices right from the reporter’s mouth. That’s why I recently sent a note to a technology reporter with 20 years’ experience (currently working for a well-known enterprise technology news site) asking him for his personal best practices when it comes to sending over a story idea for an article. Speaking to me on the condition of anonymity for this blog post, here’s how he opened his response:

“Before I get to your questions, let me describe something of what seems to be the ‘big picture’,” he wrote. “Overall, just as reporting and publishing has to re-think what these terms mean in light of the internet, I think PR firms and their clients also need to re-think what a pitch is, including how they use the press release. In my experience, most press releases have become a waste of my time. And now that reporting works under a global round the clock news deadline, time is critical.”

“Today, I am VERY often involved in long e-mail exchanges with PR reps to find out the details I need to know to decide basic questions like: is this pitch something my publication would cover? If so, is it something I would cover? Instead, in keeping with PR convention, I get press releases that are simply and largely marking jargon.”

Are you, your company or your clients feeling guilty of the above? Read on for the rest of my Q&A with this reporter below:

KR: What details are you looking for in a pitch?

Anonymous Reporter: These details are basic. What is the product? What does it do? How does it work? What’s the price? When is it available? Is this a genuinely brand new product, or an improved/revised product? If it’s improved, what are the specific new things that have been added?”

What drives you crazy about today’s typical tech product release?

When I ask specific questions for details, the replies are restatements of marketing jargon, sometimes word for word or what reads like copy/cut/paste excerpts from marketing collateral or worse – a link to the vendor’s main website. The latter is especially galling given how time crunched reporters are. I simply do not have the time to sift through an entire website hoping to find answers to the questions which should have been anticipated and answered in the original pitch.

 What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to tech PR pitches?

Basically, they usually don’t know what my publication or I cover. Second, they don’t pitch with fact-based, specific, definite details that show how the news or story idea is related to my publication, our audience or my beat.

What’s the BEST thing a PR person can do before pitching you?

Correct the pet peeves above; in many cases, that means they won’t pitch ME, and they’ll go bother someone else.

What are the top 2 things you LIKE in a pitch? What do the best pitches you get have in common?

The Gordon Gecko character in the movie “Wall Street” telling the ambitious little weasel of a stock trader, “Tell me something I don’t know.”

Increasingly, this means information or issues or problems coming from the vendor’s engagement with its own customers: Apple’s “Antenna-gate” story, for example; or the NetIQ controversy last year; or the recent Apple Mac malware. By contrast, for months now, it seems like every PR person has been pitching something about ‘bring your own device to work’ or BYOD. They seem to think if they have BYOD in the subject line that will be enough. Often, the story amounts to some generalized, vague observations and recommendations.

Is there a “best time of day” to email you a pitch? How about to call you?

Every time is bad. See above “global 24-hour news cycle.” But I will say that the longer the day goes on, the worse the time becomes.

Does the subject line matter?

Yes. Over and over again, PR people opt for “clever” or acronyms or jargon or maddeningly un-specific language. Keep it simple and clear and INCLUDE THE VENDOR’S NAME. For one thing is makes it much easier to find or search on in my inbox.

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