Four ways for tech companies to get the attention they deserve in 2022
By Kathleen Reid, founder and chief communications officer at Switchboard Public Relations.
When journalists make the move to public relations, which is happening more and more these days, it’s often said that they are joining the “dark side.”
This makes me laugh, and not in an evil supervillain sort of way. It’s true that PR is all about serving a client, while journalism is focused on serving an audience. But after more than 15 years of working alongside dozens of former journalists, I’ve learned that the two professions share an essential common element: They both draw attention to subjects that are worthy of attention. In journalism, the subjects of coverage must be newsworthy. In PR, our job is to help our clients become newsworthy using the tactics that follow (among many others).
Make it matter
My years in PR have taught me something else: Anyone who is passionate about what they do has a compelling story to tell. The trick is making that story matter to the right audience: industry insiders, investors, job hunters, policy-makers, and so on. More often than not, this depends on how a story is told.
Being properly coached on how to deliver punchy, quotable insights to journalists is a big part of making your story matter. Drawing connections between current news narratives (today’s headlines) and how they relate to your organization is one highly effective way to do that. Examples of this were cleantech and food security stories during the COP26 climate change conference. When interviewees are able to tap into the news to validate their objectives, they suddenly become newsworthy.
As influential as these opportunities can be, overlooking them can be equally damaging. The news cycle evolves quickly, with the window of opportunity often closing in the blink of an eye. When you only get one kick at the proverbial can, it is vital to get it right.
Timing is everything
While you can’t control the overall news cycle, you can control your news. Ask yourself:
What else is in the news and competing for attention?
How busy is the newsroom? Does a reporter have time to cover my news?
When will it be published, go online or go to air?
How big will my target audience be during that time?
What is the general mood of my audience?
How long will my story be running before it is replaced by something else?
Answering these questions for clients, and taking action based on the responses, is a big part of what PR professionals do.
Be honest and credible
Marketers are always talking about brand reputation — how to build it, maintain it and advance it — and that kind of thinking should be brought into any media interview. Being persuasive is all about being honest and credible, especially during a time when trust is running low and people are quick to react on social media. You must always be able to substantiate what you say with proof points.
At the same time, you must also be willing and able to admit when you or your organization has made mistakes. Do this in a positive way by explaining what you’ve learned and detailing next steps. If you don’t know an answer, acknowledge the question and note that you’ll seek out and provide accurate information ASAP.
Last but not least, never ever say “no comment.” If a question is relevant to your organization, “no comment” implies an unwillingness to share information. In a journalist’s mind, this kind of pushback means they are onto something that could be damaging to your organization.
Practice makes perfect
Admitting that you or your colleagues could benefit from media coaching is part of bold leadership. Sometimes that involves difficult conversations after an interview went off the rails or didn’t result in the desired outcome. You would never expect a pro sports team to avoid training and practice, and the same holds true for interview preparation. That’s why media training is one of the biggest parts of Switchboard’s business.
Jerry Seinfeld once quipped that “it's amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always fits exactly in the newspaper.” While the space for online news is more or less unlimited, Jerry’s point still stands: News coverage depends on journalists’ choices and capacity. Indeed, many great stories get overlooked simply because no one knows about them. In PR, we shine a light on those stories — and that sure doesn’t sound like the “dark side” to me.
Kathleen Reid is founder and chief communications officer at Switchboard Public Relations*.
Switchboard Public Relations is a VTJ founding partner.