Tips for PRs when dealing with tech journalists

Tips for Public Relations professionals dealing with technology journalistsFor perhaps as long as there has been the profession of public relations, there has been tension from the journalists served by this industry. I often see journalists complaining, frequently on Twitter, about poor approaches from PRs.

While there are hundreds of guides out there for how to handle media relations, I’m still surprised that the profession continues to fail on two universal “don’ts” that every PR should know enough to avoid.

Here are a few tips I’ve learned, and a bit of insight below from a few of the UK’s top tech journalists.

PR DON’T 1 – Never send attachments

If you have news to send, skip designing a fancy document with embedded images and colour logos, and trying to send it off as an attachment in email – chances are it won’t get into the journalist’s inbox. Just simply cut and paste the text of your press release into an email, include a brief message that highlights the key points of your news, and send.

If you must share a document by email, upload it to a website and send them a link pointing to where it can be downloaded. For photos, either upload them to a website and send along a link to its location, or invite the journalists to request a photo.

Attachments can get blocked by firewalls, dumped into spam boxes or often are unable to be opened by the journalist. They may also piss the journalist off.

PR DON’T 2 – Stop with the jargon

Journalists can’t stand industry jargon, so please stop including it in your press release. What is jargon? Here’s a line that reporter Adrian Bridgwater (@ABridgwater) found in a press release this week:

“…touch-enabled search-centric mobile-first always-on cloud-driven.”

Jargon words such as monetize, brand-enable and the use of terms such as CTA, ROI, FAQ and QOTD make no sense. Keep your language easy to read. If you aren’t sure, ask someone outside of your industry to proof read your press release. Your Granny should be able to understand what you write.

To find our more about what not to do as a PR, I decided to interview a few of the UK’s top tech writers and find out how they want to be contacted. Below are the individual journalist’s opinions and not any policy of the publications they work for. Let’s hear from them:

Charles Arthur, Editor, Technology, The Guardian (@charlesarthur)

What kind of stories do you like to get these days?

@charlesarthur

To be honest, most of the stuff that I’m sent is not a story. It’s an announcement. Press releases are announcements. They’re hardly ever stories in themselves. The stories – actual stories – that I work with tend to be at a bigger level. It’s pretty obvious what I write about, but I’m still interested in UK companies that are doing real things with real technology (such as a Cambridge company I saw recently which is working on Google Glass-like glasses) and so on.

In general I don’t write about apps (Stuart Dredge does that – @stuartdredge)   and I don’t write about games (Keith Stuart – @keefstuart) but pretty much everything else in between is me. At the moment smartphones are a big focus, as are tablets and the slow death of PCs, but all this could change in a couple of years.

What annoys you most? What are your top pet peeves?

Being added to the mailing list for an unrelated topic on the basis of a single story, and then having that spread far and wide among the people who seem to justify their existence by how many irrelevant emails they send out.

  • 1. Just because I may have written about art once does not mean I care about your art gallery. I will put you in the spambucket from which you will never, ever, EVER emerge.
  • 2. If you send me irrelevant email, again, spambucket for you. And I never revise that decision. Tread carefully, for you tread on the end of my really quite hungry spambucket.

How many emails do you get a day from PRs?

Past 14 days is showing 1030 emails of which 404 unread at this moment. That’s all from outside the Guardian. Most of those will be PR. Once they’re off the 14-day mark I’m never going to try to read them.

What would be your dream interview?

Moderating a panel of Larry Page, Tim Cook and Steve Ballmer. Or Mark Zuckerberg, Dick Costolo, and Larry Page (representing Google+).

Are there any anecdotal stories you can share about what worked and what didn’t?

Too many to name on both sides but it’s the things that don’t work which tend to stick. Emails entitled “press release” with text saying “please see attached press release” and an attachment called “press release.doc” still happen.

Then there’s “you wrote a story about X earlier this week, do you want to talk to the CEO of Y who has an opinion?” Sorry, but I know why those emails/calls happen, but it’s generally too late unless it’s a running story – and in the PR trade you should be able to recognise what’s a running story and what’s not.

“Shall I send the email again?” It failed to catch my attention the first time. No idea why you think it’s going to be any more interesting now.

“X would like to share their opinions on this.” Well, get them to put fingers to keyboard. It’s more efficient that way because if it’s interesting I can quote directly and accurately rather than transcribing my shorthand, and means I can deal with multiple people via email at once rather than the one-to-one of a phone convo.

Is there anything else you may want to add? Are you looking for anything in particular these days?

I’d sort of hoped that as a new generation came into PR that some of the problems that used to plague it in relation to the internet – rubbish email subject lines, badly named attachments, content not in the email itself but stuffed into an attachment, bloated attachments, crappy use of mailing lists – might have gone away. I’m still waiting on that one.

Matthew Bingham, Technology Writer, the Sunday Times (@MattBinghamST)

@MattBinghamST

What kind of stories do you like to get these days?
Ones about innovative gadgets and services. If it’s not got something new or unique about it, or it’s not doing something better than all the rivals, it’s going to be a hard sell up through my editor and ultimately the paper’s editor.
What annoys you most? What are your top pet peeves?
Phone calls. The telephone seems to have turned into the equivalent of snail-mail – it only ever delivers bad news. Except it’s not bills and junk mail, it’s complainants and cold calls, and I often don’t have time to talk. Honestly, if I could work out how to turn my desk phone into a dial-out only device, I would.

How many emails do you get a day from PRs?

30-50 on most days. But I like email. I can scan it; sort it; kill it; file it for later; respond in my own time. I’ve outsourced my memory to it as well: I don’t even try to remember stuff anymore, just search through email and call it up.

What would be your dream interview?

Anyone who doesn’t talk in pure jargonese. That excludes most marketing people, I’m afraid.

Are there any anecdotal stories you can share about what worked and what didn’t?

I managed to get hold of one of the first Nexus 7s in the country, and was fiddling around with it when the editor saw it. Rupert Murdoch happened to be in the building, and ten minutes later I was whisked up to the top floor to demonstrate it in person. That was surreal. Not helped by me looking particularly scruffy that day.

Is there anything else you may want to add? Are you looking for anything in particular these days?

I worry we’re concentrating too much on the big beasts – Apple, Google, Microsoft etc. Would be good to ferret out new and smaller brands, but while the big boys keep releasing products they’re monopolising my time.

Robert Andrews, Senior Editor, International, GigaOm/paidContent (@RobertAndrews)

What kind of stories do you like to get these days?

@RobertAndrews

Numerical- and research-based stories that quantify a trend or innovation appeal to me. Genuine consumer surveys are great but those which have been cooked up purely to validate a client’s business model or potential are depressingly easy to spot. I’m interested in the evolution of and challenges facing the news business, publishing to new platforms like tablets and the over-the-top video opportunity.
What annoys you most? What are your top pet peeves?

Those dreaded “did you get my email?” calls – and their offspring, the “did you get my email?” email. I’m afraid I get so much email t I can’t reply to all pitches.

How many emails do you get a day from PRs?

I got 3,741 emails last month. Many of them were from PRs. I do like to keep as close to Inbox Zero as possible, I hate open loops hanging around. So I try to act on emails as quickly as possible – that either means taking forward a pitch or a day spent playing email whackamole.

Do you have any anecdotal stories to share about something you loved, or something you hated?

In a world of cookie cutter startups chasing me-too models and minor gains, it’s great to see genuinely innovative products like Spotify, iPad and Zeebox.

Steve Litchfield, Producer and Presenter of The Phones Show, Editor and Senior Writer for AllAboutSymbian and AllAboutWindowsPhone (@stevelitchfield)

@stevelitchfield

What kind of stories do you like to get these days?

My favourites fall into two camps:

1) Tip-offs about device or application updates which are both hot off the press and really significant

2) Press releases which include ALL the bits I need to make a decent story (adding my tuppence worth, of course!)

What annoys you most? What are your top pet peeves?

  • 1. People sending in ‘stories’ which they’d like to publish on my site as ‘free content’ – i.e. thinly veiled adverts for something or other
  • 2. People urging me to visit their trade stand at a show on the other side of the world, yet strangely reticent to play any financial part whatsoever in helping me get there (!)

How many emails do you get a day from PRs?

2 or 3

What would be your dream interview?

Someone from a company that really excited me, whose vision and field of work I really believed in. And, most importantly, someone who didn’t just speak in ‘marketing language’ but who gave plain and honest answers to questions!

Are there any anecdotal stories you can share about what worked and what didn’t? In terms of people pitching you stories.

A perennial one is a security company pitching me a story about an enterprise security utility, when even 30 seconds research on their part would have shown them that my show wasn’t the right outlet for the news.

Is there anything else you may want to add? Are you looking for anything in particular these days?

Always looking for interesting applications and products in the mobile field whose developers are happy to sponsor an episode of The Phones Show and become part of it in video form/coverage – a win for both parties etc.

If you are interested in finding more journalists to follow on Twitter, feel free to subscribe to my list “Journalists I Follow” via @lisadevaney.

If you have tips about working with journalists as a PR, please leave your comment.

Main image Bigstockphoto.com.