Journalists on PR: Tips for Working with the CE Press

My friend and former colleague Grant Clauser, editorial director of North American Publishing Company‘s Consumer Technology Publishing Group (E-Gear, Dealerscope, CustomRetailer, PictureBusiness and more), sent me the following in advance of our upcoming Journalists on PR interview, which we’ll post in January.

Says Grant, “Earlier this year, I was helping a friend who teaches a class in PR by doing a survey of other editors on how PR can better work with them… [T]he answers come from about 20 people and sometimes contradict each other.”

While the respondents all hail from the CE (consumer electronics) press, the results are great reading for any PR professional, as most if not all of what the respondents have to say is largely universal. As you read through, sometimes the contradictions that emerge will make your head spin… but keep in mind that these raw, unfiltered statements provide invaluable insight into how journalists think, and about what they want and don’t want from PR people. (And, of course, like snowflakes, no two journalists are exactly alike.)

Thanks for sharing this research with us, Grant! And now, the full report… 

Tips for Working with the CE Press

Note: These suggestions were contributed by more than 20 journalists in the consumer electronics industry from outlets including print magazines (consumer and trade), blogs, Web sites and newspapers, so there may be differences in opinions and even contradictions. Some are redundant. I’ve included all of them anyway.

Press kits and releases

1. Include price, availability and technical details. These are usually more important than the product manager’s quotes.

2. If you provide a CD, don’t make it a mini or credit-card style CD. Mac users can’t use them (iMacs use slot-load drives). Flash drives are much better than CDs because many new laptops (mac air, UMPCs) don’t have disc drives.

3. Please provide a web site for downloading all press material, including high-res images.

4. Make sure your press web site is up to date. Always.

5. Make the press site is easy to find and not password-protected. We often need the info immediately, so waiting three days for an account to be authorized means your company won’t get covered. Plus, it’s hard to keep track of hundreds of press site passwords.

Press conferences

1. If you have a press conference, have something to say. Don’t just show us your newest commercial or read your latest financial statements. Don’t tease us with new products and then not give us the information. Our time is important, so don’t waste it. (Example: At [recent] Samsung and Panasonic press conferences, both companies told us they’d have significant product announcements “tomorrow.” So what were we doing there now?)

2. At large expos (CES), don’t schedule off-site press events in the middle of the conference. And if you do, don’t be offended if people don’t go. I can make six good booth meetings in the time it takes me to go to the Bellagio for a meeting and back.

3. If you have a press conference in the morning, serve breakfast. At 12-1,offer lunch. We’re often running around so much to get to meetings, there’s no time to eat. Otherwise we may faint in the chair.

4. Be prepared to answer technical questions. I’m often shocked at how frequently companies can’t answer questions about how their products work.

5. Be prepared to discuss details. No sense in announcing a product if you won’t talk about details. We’ll just think it’s vaporware.

Some General Thoughts 

If your agency handles PR and advertising for the client, don’t CC the publisher/sales on every pitch and don’t use that as an angle to get coverage. It won’t help you win friends with a journalist.

Know what you’re talking about. Know your competition. Know our competition. Know the history of the company you’re representing. Know the history of the category you’re representing. Act like you live and breathe this stuff, because we do.

Clean your lists. Reporters change jobs and beats frequently, and no one likes to be reminded who they used to work for. 

Don’t send every release to every reporter. Limit the number of releases. Too many releases from one client can blur the importance of a particular release.

Do not send emails to a group of reporters with email addresses exposed. We’re shy about that.

Narrow and refine your list for pitches. Nothing peeves a reporter more than asking him/her to cover something that they don’t cover.

Include price and availability for ANY new product in the release. If either or both are to be determined, say so. Don’t leave it hanging.

Ask how reporters would like to receive releases for both unsolicited pitches and at press events–paper, CD, jump drive, email. And provide options.

If you’re going to offer a gift at a press event: no pens! Make it something useful, not decorative (i.e. company logo in chocolate, fancy logo’d passport wallet or datebook or card case or playing cards or paperweight). A product your company makes is always the best choice.

Include at least a low-resolution photo for all new product releases. Let’s see what the thing looks like at least. Then tell me where high-res pictures are available–and make sure they are available.

If you schedule a meeting or phoner, make sure the reporter knows who’s going to be on the call, and especially if you’re not going to be. Narrow the people on the call or in the meet to ONE person to be quoted, even if you have multiple people present.

No press conference should start later than 15 minutes from the called-for start time, and should last no longer than 45 minutes. Avoid foreign speakers with thick accents as presenters, regardless of how their egos will be bruised. Media train all presenters and make sure they don’t simply read text off slides.

All presentations, especially those with industry numbers and product comparisons, should be made available without asking.

Don’t call freelancers before 11am or after 6pm.

Don’t make us return sub-$100 MSRP review units.

Don’t send unsolicited review units and expect them back. 

Don’t ask us to send you copies of an issue your product appears in; that’s why god invented clipping services. And especially don’t pester us about coverage. Ask us if and when the coverage will appear when we show interest or ask for a review unit, then one email near the previously-stated publication date, maybe. No badgering phone calls.

Don’t ask to see review/copy before publication.

Trying to rewrite any material submitted for fact-check is a major foul. Always list the factual errors and talk to the writer. (A PR person actually did this to me once, changing statements that were opinion).

Phone first, e-mail second in important PR situations.

Always return a call within 24-hours. Even if you don’t have an answer, just letting people know that you are on the job will keep them assured.

Remember people’s names as best you can.

Don’t get angry when journalists don’t call you back right away. It’s not personal; they get a lot of PR calls. Just follow up and act as if it is not a problem. (One agency often gets mad if I don’t answer them immediately, and that bugs me sometimes. That agency also handles advertising for the same clients they do PR for.)

Press kits: Paper is dead, folders are deader. The best is to put your releases on a thumb drive with the release and assorted images. Second-best is a CD. Also have the release and pictures easily found on your website. The latter is great for lazy bloggers.

Keep press conferences/events ShortShortShort. Speeches should just be a few minutes; the whole thing no more than 40 (preferably less). Also, know your audience. Tech writers aren’t going to care what your CFO has to say. Finance writers aren’t going to care to hear about product. Journalists are a cranky, whiny bunch, and they hate being bored. Also, too many CES press conferences explain basic things, like what HDTV is. Don’t insult your audience. Food and booze help, a lot.

DON’T send large images over email.  Personally, I delete any email over 1MB instantly. Have links to your press release and assorted images. Also, don’t have just one master list. The editor of Xbox Gaming Weekly isn’t going to care about your other client’s brand-new whole-house distributed audio system, and if you spam him enough, he’s likely to ignore anything else you send.

Most important, RETURN CALLS AND EMAILS promptly. Even if it’s just, “I’ll look into that for you, and get back to you soon.” But don’t complain if we ignore you. Yes, it’s a double standard.

Get to know each writer as best as you can. Learn the editor’s beat, what the publication/outlet is about, what the editor is working on, how he or she likes to receive information.

Look at the editorial calendars. It’s a great ice-breaker for pitching, especially during periods where your client isn’t breaking much news.

Know who your intended audience is. When pitching a non-consumer audience, for example, don’t pitch as if you are pitching to a consumer. Sounds simple, but is often overlooked.

Listen. Ask questions. Treat the writer as a valuable resource rather than a press release receptacle. Solid relationships make a huge difference when push comes to shove.

When scheduling press conferences and other events, be aware of and considerate of the media’s time. As cool as you think your event is, the increasingly busy and fast-paced media has deadlines, other appointments, etc. Get them the information they need. Start on time, or as close to it as you can.

Make press kits as easy to use as you can. Properly title image files and press release files.

Always have both high-resolution (print) and low-resolution (web) images if possible.

On those happy occasions when press people contact you (as opposed to the other way around), drop everything you are doing and respond. Even if you don’t have what they need just yet, let them know you are working on it. Media people don’t appreciate being left hanging.

Never tell me a product is sexy or overstate the importance of it. Just get to the point: what is it, where does it fit, why is this important.

At press conferences and events, keep it tight and don’t waste my time with cheerleading or asking us (the press) questions. A press conference isn’t the time to conduct a focus group.

Always keep your promise for info or product. If you can’t then tell us…be honest or it will come back and bite you.

Be sure to include all pertinent contact information in an easily visible manner, including phone, e-mail address(es) and website(s). Don’t hide that info or make us register somewhere to get it.

Avoid using superlatives. Don’t say you’re the best company. Instead, provide an example of any recent awards, news or other helpful background that can be used in a journalistic manner.

Any direct quotes included in a press release should support the material directly, providing a human perspective about the topic. Using actual quotes will likely increase your chances that it will be used in a story or will inspire follow-up questions.

When pitching a story to a news organization, know how they may have covered the topic/company in the past. Reference any prior coverage and pitch the new story in a unique manner.

Always consider the news organization’s deadlines and special coverage opportunities (print, radio and TV included).

Always follow up personally on breaking news releases to be sure the correct contact at the new organization received the information in a timely manner. Understand that some journos get annoyed by that follow-up.

Consistently update your news contacts as per the subject matter (example: If you’re pitching a story about health, know who the health editor/producer is at the publication or station).

Don’t interfere with the interview process. Make contacts available and arrange interviews and allow the sources to provide feedback based on a reporter’s inquiries.

Think like a journalist first and a flak second. Make the job of covering your client and writing the story as easy as possible on the writer and you will get the attention. Line up as many assets up front for a journalist as you can; images, multiple interview contacts, backgrounders. Be willing to point a writer to the competitors, because you know they will need to find them. A company is much more likely to get covered and to get prominence in a story if the PR person anticipates the broader needs of a journalist in putting together a story, and doesn’t just focus on putting the best face on their own client.

When writing a press release, don’t write around stuff you, the PR person, don’t know. Go back to the client and get the information you need. Find the tech guy who can help you understand the technology, the marketing guy who can explain the nuances of the new branding campaign, etc. You’re going to have to do the work anyway once reporters start calling, asking questions about the holes in the press release. So do the fact-finding work early, before the release goes out.

Always have complete contact information of primary contact in the release.

Make art available on company web site (exec headshots, screenshots, product shots, anything I may typically ask for) and in high-resolution.

Flash/CD drive releases are best for trade shows. Even better would be a way to just enter my e-mail address and then have the complete press kit waiting for me in electronic form when I get back to my computer. Less baggage the better (though that could really bog down my e-mail server).

Keep electronic press kits organized. Often times I have a difficult time finding the release that the image goes with.

For press conferences at expos, know what else is going on at the same time. Keep walking distance between press conferences at a minimum. Try to have meetings as close to the main drag as possible. If I can do two meetings in the middle of the convention center in the time it will take me to get to the one at a hotel down the street, then I’ll do those two.

Find the angle. You should know what I cover. If you’re pitching me to meet with a new company, don’t tell me what they do. Tell me what they do for MY audience. Give me a headline I can wrap my head around and I may come just for the easy story to write.

Have full press kits available online, but for times when journalists are out of range of a wi-fi signal or broadband connection, provide a CD-ROM or USB drive version as well. A paper summary version with highlights is extremely helpful as well, especially during busy trade shows, since online press kits and those on digital media slow down the writing process. Don’t write-protect files. In jargon-heavy industries and where long model numbers are involved, there are fewer chances for typos when you can cut and paste long model numbers.

Minimize the amount of background information before you get to the meat of the press conference. Make speeches and Powerpoints available online afterward (videos of speeches are great; the CES web site offers videos of keynotes) so that journalists can concentrate on what’s being said rather than scribbling down stats.

Use email for pitches rather than a phone call. Put as much detail as possible in the subject line because your release is one of dozens, sometimes hundreds, that a journalist receives in a week. If your clients fall across several industries (or you share lists), filter your mailing lists so that you don’t wind up in the spam folder for sending a release on Israeli politics to someone who writes about TVs.

When sending unsolicited email to media, it’s better to provide just a teaser bit of info and then ask if you can send more involved details. Getting a full press kit, pictures, Powerpoint, etc., isn’t appreciated and makes one more inclined to toss it all out.  

Never, never, ever send out a cold email to media making it sound as if this is a “follow-up.” I get a few of these a month and haven’t ever fallen for it, plus I always delete the email because, frankly, I don’t care for any person who behaves in that way.

When inviting someone to a press conference with very little warning, be sure to try to find a hook that will make a person willing to jump at the last minute.  And if inviting someone who would have to go to great lengths to get there (i.e., a New York event for Wednesday being told about the previous Friday to someone on the West Coast), if flight/travel and other accommodations are involved, let them know. And if not, be sure to be apologetic about it and also offer alternatives such as video conferencing or a video they can download/view later, full press materials coming right away after the event, etc.

Remember that lots of emails get sent daily, so try and find a way to make the email appealing. Don’t try being clever in the subject line, as most of the time that will trigger a Spam blocker.

Don’t ask to review an article before it gets published. If the writer offers you the opportunity to fact-check an article, then just fact check. Don’t argue over opinions.

Posted by Joe Paone

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One Response to Journalists on PR: Tips for Working with the CE Press

  1. […] so he kinda beat me to the punch. And just in case you missed it last week, he also sent me a quite illuminating survey of 20 anonymous CE tech journalists and their attitudes about PR, which makes for quite tasty […]

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