Rand Fishkin (a lovely guy and
, I’d like to think, a friend of mine a great friend whom I wish I saw more of*), recently wrote a post on his personal blog entitled A Healthy Dose Of Fear Is Appropriate When Dealing With The Press. It was in response to a piece by another entrepreneur encouraging start-up CEOs to engage with the press. In it he said:
As far as I am concerned, there are two ways to behave towards the press: 1) Treat them with respect and make sure you are open, real, and fair. OR 2) Shut up and let them know you’re not ready to talk about it.
Rand disagreed with this and wrote a number of reasons that CEOs should be fearful, based on his own bad experiences with bloggers (this bit is important), and how they should prepare for dealing with journalists, and even how they should ‘call them out’ if they made mistakes. When he published this on his own site most of the feedback was positive. When an edited excerpt was published on a PR blog, the comments were more critical.
Here I’d like to give Rand (and anyone else who is interested) my own views on why you shouldn’t be fearful of the press, but also what you can do to prepare. And, if only to pretend that the headline of this piece has a meaning, I’m going to keep the reasons to just 3.
- Differentiate between journalists and bloggers. I don’t like encouraging people to make this distinction but the fact is that, despite the fact that the differences should really be semantic, and based around technology, many bloggers refuse to move on. Blogs started as little personal journals abut are, now, often multi-million dollar businesses, with multiple contributors, and even managing editors. But too many of them still value speed over accuracy, page views over real understanding of a story and refuse to look back and update a story if proved to have made a mistake.In his list of negative experiences Rand mentions the fact that there were typos: to be honest, this happens with the world’s best newspapers (my particular favourite The Guardian is often known as The Gruaniad for its history of spelling mistakes). But what The Guardian does have (as do most organisations that grew out of print rather than directly out of the web), though one might not believe it, are legions of sub-editors whose job is to try and make sure that these slip-ups don’t happen, and the best of them even have staff devoted to checking claims of inaccuracy, and making sure those are corrected. The Leverson Enquiry in the UK is doing a great job of showing that the traditional press is far from perfect, but I’d suggest that most B2B magazines or websites will be more likely to amend inaccuracies than the likes of a Techcrunch, Business Insider or Venturebeat.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to journalists.Rand suggests that conversations with journalists can be dangerous, as they might take things out of context and that email interviews are always preferable. I’d say that they allow you to control your message more (which is obviously great), but that a better way of controlling it, is to get to know the people you’re likely to have to talk to. When I joined my first agency, one of the first things we did was to take the main writers for one of the big trade magazines out for drinks. This wasn’t about buying good coverage, or trying to get some inside scoops on them. Rather, it was about building real, human relationships and getting an understanding of what interested them. This led to some of them then calling me regularly if they needed comments on an industry story, thereby keeping our name in the press, something I don’t think would have happened if we hadn’t done that.Now, I don’t think that this always works: in one instance I gave some quotes to one journalist at that magazine and, having done so, was told that the company line had changed and I needed to get my quotes retracted. The story hadn’t been published yet so I emailed the journalist in question and asked if, as a favour, he could not use my comments. He ignored my request and went ahead. Now, unlike if I had been a CEO facing an IPO, the quotes weren’t disastrous and my response was simple. I refused to ever talk to that particular journalist again. He may not have noticed, but what I didn’t do was go nuclear – I may not have wanted to deal with him, but I didn’t want to piss off the entire staff of the publication, something that might have happened if I had taken Rand’s advice and called him out. As with most things, it’s worth taking a deep breath and counting to 10 before you do something like this. Try to decide if it’s really worth it.
- Do your research too. Now this is something that Rand suggests too, but I just want to repeat and add to it, but in the context of explaining why you needn’t be fearful of the press. Rand makes the comparison that an entrepreneur wouldn’t meet a potential investor without prepping. I’d make an even more basic one – you expect journalists to do research, so you should make the effort to do the same. Check them out on LinkedIn. Read their articles. Look for examples of their work and also try to get a feel for whether the tone of the site or publication they’re writing for is more Financial Times or Valleywag. If you don’t like what you see, don’t agree to it. Simples.