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Tech PR 101: Be Real, Be Honest

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Just when you think youve seen and heard it all, something comes along that leaves you awestruck, stunned, amazed, shocked or just plain flummoxed.

No, Im not talking about some new blockbuster technology product or service. What caught me by surprise was a question posed at a recent press conference. It was a question I had never heard askedand a darn good question at that. The question was not asked by the media in attendance; rather it was directed at us scribes and scriveners who cover the industry from a technology perspective.

An executive for a technology company wanted to know why certain technology stories get covered in the media, while othersjudged by their purveyors to be major newsare ignored. I always had thought the reasons were fairly obvious, but as I began to reflect more deeply, I realized that there are lots of reasons and that any one or a combination of them might explain why some stories get attention, while other items dont.

Sometimes the answers are simple: a message not sent, a phone call not made, an e-mail or fax not received or read, too many stories coming in at once, someone on vacation, poorly executed PR efforts. These everyday possibilities aside, however, just what is it that determines which stories run and which dont? In the end, it is the reporters or editors judgment.

While that might seem obvious enough, theres a lot that goes into making such judgments. On the practical side, one might consider the amount of exposure a company has gotten lately. For example, if a company gets covered in three successive issues of a publication, chances for a fourth appearance in the next issue may be slim.

In a related vein, some companies are fond of making multiple announcements at the same time, little realizing that editors will most likely choose just one for coverage and ignore the rest. Lesson: Dont throw everything at the wall and hope that something sticks. Seeing so many messages from the same vendor at the same time tends to desensitize editors when it comes to reading the one or two important ones hiding in the crowd.

When I worked in advertising (yes, I was once on the dark side), we learned that the average driver has no more than 7 seconds to read a billboard message. The same type of time limitation applies to press releases, e-mails and other communications that pass by the eyes of editors. Lesson: Be brief and get the good stuff up front (preferably in a headline). I get 200 to 400 e-mail messages alone each day; I dont have time to read poetic meanderings and smarmy sales prose.

Further to that point, and I know some of you may find this shocking, we editors really dont care that much about your companys rich heritage or its world-class leadership. If youre world-class, chances are we already know that. If youre not world-class, a flowery press release isnt going to convince us.

Of course, the editor must also judge how important the message is in the context of the broad spectrum of news in technology, and technology news about our industry in particular. Some companies are surprised to hear that their hiring of a new sales manager isnt as important as a new technology platform that half the industry could use. Imagine that.

One good way to increase your chances of getting coverage for a story is to avoid insulting an editors intelligence. If your communication is a literary Rubiks Cube, or if its brimming with overblown marketing hype, we are going to be very unhappy. We may even make nasty faces. That cuts down on your chances of getting coverage.

Does it surprise you to hear that we might let our personal feelings get in the way of our otherwise good judgment? Well, we try very hard not to let that happen, but why push your luck? While most of the journalists I know are professionals, we are human beings as well. Spitting into the wind has never been an effective persuasive tactic.

The best overall advice I can give is to be real. Dont say something is “revolutionary” if its really just slightly better than ordinary. Dont tell us a story is important when you know in your heart its not worthy to be written on a bathroom wall. And when it comes to offering time and resources to make our job easier, dont mislead us or let us down.

An industry vendor recently volunteered to provide a tech story that I was quite eager to publish. When the time came to get the story, however, the vendorfor rather obvious political reasonsdecided not to provide it and even tried to make it look as if I had been the one asking them for the story, when they had, in fact, offered it, unsolicited. I think I might have made some horrendous faces on that occasionreal Halloween stuff, if you know what I mean.

So, if you take nothing else away from this exercise in basic PR, remember this: Honesty, professionalism, integrity and respect are your best weapons in the battle to have your story heard. These qualities dont guarantee your story will get published, but they do guarantee that youll get a fair shot.

Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, November 11, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.