Tech Journalists Report on the Best Way to Work With Them – Observations From Tech Reporter Panel

By Lori BertelliAugust 14, 2018

Getting back to basics is something we shouldn’t forget as PR professionals. Earlier this summer we attended a panel at Heavybit in San Francisco featuring infrastructure, application development and developer-focused journalists where the PR basics took center stage. The group included Christina Cardoza, news editor at SD Times; Alex Handy, writer at The New Stack; Charlene O’Hanlon, managing editor at Derrick Harris, founder, editor and writer at ARCHITECT and formerly at GigaOM and Fortune, moderated the discussion. The conversation covered the journalists’ core coverage areas and audience; how and when specific reporters want to hear from you and best practices in reducing friction to your pitch; relevant trends and how you can be written into them; and what motivates journalists to cover you.

Here are a few of the highlights from the discussion—things that are worth revisiting and keeping in practice.

People not machines
It’s important to remember we are pitching people. People with likes and dislikes, personal lives and time constraints, and who may either be having a good day or a bad day. Think of the fatigue you get reading or hearing overused words or phrases. For many journalists, buzzwords like AI and ML have reached the saturation point. Unless your client actually does AI and ML, don’t try and get creative, they said. These writers bemoaned seeing too many pitches with companies trying to be something they are not just to be part of a story. This tactic doesn’t work and undermines your credibility.

Fresh vs. day old (or much older)
As we think about telling our client’s story, remember to create an interesting narrative (not just throwing in the latest buzzwords). Storytelling is central to what we do. We need to find unique angles and pitch reporters on stories no one else is likely covering. The journalists on the panel said their inboxes are filled with pitches focused on topics they have already covered. We need to help our clients find the gap and tell the story that hasn’t been told. Give reporters the interesting “thing” early to provide them a sense of ownership or inclusion early on. Reporters, like all of us, like to feel like they are a part of something new.

Obsessing on subject lines and names
The panel members emphasized they continually receive ho-hum and unclear email subject lines that they won’t click on. They noted that, as part of storytelling and pitch development, it’s useful to keep a 70/30 ratio in mind as a yardstick—spend 70 percent of your time obsessing over the subject line and 30 percent of your time on the email body itself. The subject line is what will or won’t grab a reporter’s attention. Long, tedious emails aren’t helpful, either. Stick to the facts of the story and lay it out clearly.

Finally, while we’re obsessing over subject lines, don’t forget to triple check the recipient’s name in the email before hitting send. Reporters all too often receive emails addressed to random recipients, or, worse, “Dear Reporter.” This will not make a good impression and likely land you on an embarrassing list.

In summary, here’s a short list of reminders from journalists on the panel that can help everyone practice solid media relations:

• Buzzwords (like AI and ML) will hurt more than help unless your client actually does AI and ML—just stop. Many false claims are being made.

• Remember to tell a story and pitch them on something no one else is covering or has covered; don’t pitch on something they’ve already written.

• Obsess over the subject line.

• Press releases are still valuable but be careful about the buzzwords. Write clearly and concisely and avoid hyperbole.

• Get reporters’ names right in your emails. Give them the interesting “thing” early. Give them a sense of ownership or inclusion early on. They like to feel like they are a part of something, just as most of us do.

Sure, many of these reminders may seem obvious as we read them, but reporters wouldn’t focus on them during panel discussions if PR people were getting them right, right? As summer nears an end and we head into the busy fall season, here’s an easy way to remember how we can help reporters and improve our media relations—just think PUBS: People, Unique, Buzzwords, Subject(line).

In her free time, Lori can be found hiking, trying a new group exercise class or learning from her daughter.