Reporters Reveal: Three Tips for Making Your Clients’ Stories Stick
In April, we held our annual BOCA State of the Union company offsite. We spent an entire day together — we talked, we listened, we even cooked dinner! This year’s get-together taught us about everything from how to best approach journalists in this new era of reporting to how to correctly chop onions.
This year, we were lucky enough to welcome three journalists to our SOTU: Don Clark, (formerly of The Wall Street Journal); Ari Levy, from CNBC; and Tomio Geron, from WSJ; all joined us for a brief panel about positioning clients to reporters. Sammy Totah, a vice president at BOCA Communications, mediated the panel. He asked the three helpful journalists questions about how they decide which stories to report and how they chase a scoop. Here is what we learned.
The tech industry has a saturation problem. Companies spin up all sorts of “innovative” products that tap into the latest trends. First we had cloud, then big data. Now machine learning and artificial intelligence are the technologies at the tip of every founder’s tongue. Yet, for every “groundbreaking” or “market-leading” company we learn about, two more crop up to compete. Eventually, the words that were once intriguing and meaningful become lost in in a sea of similar-sounding descriptors. Or, as one of the reporters said, “After a while, everything becomes jargon.”
The webcomic, xkcd’s panel above sums up a real but overlooked part of the problem. So many companies with the same technologies at the core of their offerings exist because the problems they’re trying to solve are difficult. This is why messaging becomes buzzwords — companies will keep billing themselves as the next solution until someone actually solves the problem.
Another part of the problem is in how companies position themselves to media. Here are three tips for gaining tech reporters’ attention:
- Buzzwords are a buzzsaw for your messaging. In the early 2010s, the buzzword-turned-banality was “big data.” Now, they’re “artificial intelligence (AI),” and “machine learning.”While we haven’t quite reached peak “big data” levels of saturation, it’s clear the days of artificial intelligence and machine learning as novel concepts are over. It’s OK for companies to build products around those technologies; but, we have to work together to position them without putting the jargon first.
- WIGD? What is Google doing? The unfortunate reality of tech journalism is that publications can afford to pay fewer and fewer people to cover the myriad of trends and new companies clamoring for ink. Tech reporters spend the vast majority of their time following giants devouring market cap: Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft. These huge companies don’t often speak with reporters about what they’re doing or where they think a given industry is headed. That’s where your clients come in. Reporters want to understand, through the lens of industry experts, exactly what the Big 5 are doing and why they are doing it.Is your client another “hot AI-based [insert industry] company?” Great, but not enough to capture the attention of a reporter with a limited bandwidth. Does your client’s CEO live and breathe machine learning and cybersecurity? Can she tell a WSJ reporter why Amazon’s recent purchase of harvest.ai makes a ton of sense given the direction the industry is headed in? Now we’re talking! Don’t pitch the company, pitch the expertise. And always remember: your client must be able to answer the question, “What is Google (or Facebook or Amazon or Apple or Microsoft) doing about this?”
- Would you read the story you’re pitching? No? Maybe don’t pitch it. If there isn’t a Big 5 tie-in, tell a reporter what the big deal is. “New Big Data Company Makes Generating Actionable Insights Easier” is fairly rote, at this point. “This Info-to-Insights Startup Is Turning the eCommerce Industry on Its Head” explains why we should care. “Sequoia Ventures Sees the Light, Invests in Cybersecurity Savants” might turn a few more heads than “[new company] Nabs $15 Million From Valley Investors.” Have a little fun with your subject lines and explain why someone would want to read this story. If you get bored writing the pitch, chances are the reporter will, too.
Part of our job as PR professionals is to educate ourselves about the trends impacting the media with whom we interact. We must then make recommendations to our clients based on those trends.
What we learned: After a while, every new buzzword becomes jargon.
What we recommend: Massage the messaging. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are helping humans become more efficient; no one denies that. Your clients can and should continue to build offerings around intelligent algorithms. If you cannot tie your client’s company into what the Big 5 are doing, then it’s time to figure out how to position your client’s story in a way that avoids jargon.
In Part 2 of our BOCA State of the Union series, we’ll talk about ingredients for a successful PR firm (and campaign and strategy). Stay tuned here for more!