On the Record with Blair Hanley Frank of VentureBeat

The theme of this blog series is: Making your job easier! My goal with this blog series is to educate the public relations (PR) industry and ensure that we are forming productive relationships with the media. It seems as though PR people and reporters are often at odds with one another, and I hope to do my part to change that dynamic.

As an assistant account executive (AAE) at our San Francisco PR firm, I am in the perfect position to get my feet wet within the fast-paced B2B tech PR industry. I have come to learn that being an effective AC means making my team’s job easier. One example includes collecting news sweeps for my team to understand what reporters are talking about in our industry, as well as providing insight about how we can make the client relevant. These activities help us develop stronger PR strategies and plans. I believe this same process should apply to all public relations people who engage with reporters. The overall goal is to understand how I can help make your job easier, and to equip each professional with the best possible resources.  

For this week’s On The Record, I had the opportunity to speak with Blair Hanley Frank of VentureBeat. Blair is a staff writer at VentureBeat, where he covers artificial intelligence and cloud computing. Previously, he worked as a U.S. correspondent for IDG News Service and was a Bay Area correspondent at GeekWire.

He attended Whitman College and lives in San Francisco.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy writing for pleasure, reading, cooking, and playing video games. Stardew Valley on the Switch is my digital distraction of choice at the moment, and I’m currently in the middle of “Her Body and Other Parties”, Carmen Maria Machado’s brilliant collection of short stories.

What do you generally write about?

I write about AI and the cloud computing space. I aim to write stories that illuminate something interesting or a broader trend worth understanding. Generally, I write for a B2B-focused audience and assume that my readers are fully engaged and interested in the tech industry, but aren’t fully educated about the topic. My writing is focused on the higher level of tech.

What do you believe is VentureBeat’s mission statement when providing news?

My job at VentureBeat is to provide our readers with all the information they need about the most transformative technologies that fall into my beat. We’re here to cut through the hype and give people the news and perspectives they need about the technologies that matter to them and the people they care about.

What are some hot topics that you look forward to covering in 2018?

AI. It’s easily one of the biggest trends in technology that I expect will touch every facet of computing from here on out. Within that, I’m particularly interested in following technical developments that make the creation of AI systems accessible to a broader set of people, novel results in research and product development, and the profound impact of AI systems on our society.

What kind of music do you listen to when you want to crank out content?

Depends on my mood. I can go all over the place. Some favorites include Bruce Springsteen, (I have a massive collection of bootlegs that I usually cycle through), Dave Grusin’s take on the “West Side Story” soundtrack, a local band called The Family Crest, and Bear McCreary’s soundtrack to Battlestar Galactica.

Where do you go to stay caught up in news?

Within the world of tech reporters, everyone knows everyone else. I know the beats of the people whom I enjoy following, and keep tabs on their coverage, especially when it intersects with my own. Of course, I also have a group of publications and aggregators that I follow in order to keep up with broader trends and major new events outside my little bailiwick.

What are your general thoughts about the PR industry?

At the end of the day, it’s business. There are some PR folks who are easy to work with, some who aren’t. But we’re ultimately out to do different things, and that leads to tension, no matter what.

Any pet peeves that you experience with PR people?

I do not enjoy receiving pitches that are loaded with marketing jargon. My job is to cut through the BS for my readers and it is way easier for me to pass judgment on a pitch when I don’t have to filter through clutter.

Additionally, I hate cold calls. My phone is my hotline for emergency communication, like article corrections, or questions about where I am. I will pick up the phone, but when I do, I’m expecting the worst. Pitching me cold in that environment is not a recipe for success.

What is your preferred structure of a pitch? (i.e. straight to the point, lots of background, subj line that says “Product pitch”)

When sending me a pitch, make sure you front load it with why I should care. I have about 30 seconds to determine whether or not an email is worth my time, so the first couple sentences are critical to explaining why a story matters to me. The more tailored that is to my interests and past coverage, the better.

What are some best practices that you would suggest PR people to follow?

I would suggest that PR people do the work to form relationships with reporters. That means getting to know what we like, and using that to drive future pitches. We’re all different.

What are your thoughts about press releases? Do you believe they are outdated or even necessary anymore?

I believe having a written record of information about a piece of news is always helpful, especially when I’m working on an article. It’s just easier to refer to written information when it comes to product details and key figures, rather than try to remember a conversation or go back through interview tape.

For all things artificial intelligence and cloud computing, be sure to follow Blair on Twitter @Belril.

For a mix of media, pop culture and advertising news, be sure to read our previous On The Record: With Anthony Ha of TechCrunch.

Interested in learning more about BOCA and how we help clients secure coverage that helps them shine and matters to their business? Drop us a line.