This Thursday I attended a meet the media event put on by BusinessWire in Tysons Corner. These events bring together local reporters and editors and give them a chance to share their view of trends, how they like to be contacted, and the kind of stories they are looking to cover. While these discussions and questions from the audience can be interesting, the biggest draw is to meet these folks in person and build a solid relationship with them.
BusinessWire pulled together a good panel of local technology media:
- Paul Sherman, Potomac Tech Wire
- Gautham Nagesh, Government Executive
- Mark Kellner, freelance columnist for Washington Times
- David Hubler, Washington Technology
- Darlene Darcy, Washington Business Journal
Some of the points made reconfirmed what every PR person should know already. Kellner stressed how PR people need to read the publications they pitch, understand the market and the readership, and be persistent. Sherman reminded the audience not to send attachments, paste the release or other information into the body of an email. Nagesh recommended that you make your subject matter experts very available for technology background briefings; this will lead to him thinking of them often and eventually to story coverage. Email is the best way to reach most of them, not just because they are usually out of the office but because everyone hates listening to voicemail, which was pronounced “dead.”
The entire panel stressed how PR people need to do a better job of battling the “inhouse” perspective when crafting press releases. Hubler in particular stressed how he reads press releases full of jargon and terms that no doubt have great meaning for a company’s internal audiences, yet can’t be understood by external parties. Simple, declarative sentences that explain why the announcement is important to a broader audience are too often missing.
There were some interesting points made about the Obama Administration’s commitment to transparency. Nagesh admitted no one knew exactly what that meant, and the promised ability to review legislation before enactment has not materialized. Sherman pointed out that to some extent the Administration is looking to go around the press to communicate directly to involved citizens, using the example of the Treasury Department putting out fact sheets and Q&A’s very quickly.
The use of social media by the panel members was mixed. Hubler said flat out he doesn’t read or use Twitter. Sherman reviews Twitter but would never run with something without getting further confirmation. Darcy shared with the audience a number of Twitter streams put out by the WBJ and their Facebook Page to help give a feel for the kind of stories they to publish. Nagesh sounded like the most fully immersed, saying he gets story ideas from blogs and Twitter, and in fact put out an inquiry over Twitter recently asking for story ideas and got one back almost immediately.
One of the questions from the audience dealt with the age old question of the exclusive. Every reporter likes getting one, and going the exclusive route does increase the chances of a story. But as the panel admitted, few if any other publications will run with the story, meaning you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. Hubler pointed out you shouldn’t simply go for the outlet with the highest readership, in his example the Washington Post.
I asked the panel if a middle course might be offering news under embargo to a number of publications. That way they have it early and if they choose to cover they will be timely, but no guarantee of exclusive. They all said they’d be open to that approach. I call this an “open embargo” — hardly a new concept but maybe a new term.
All in all it was an event that worked for all participants. PR professionals and media learned how best to work together and BusinessWire got some good visibility. Maybe I’ll see you at the next one.
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