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IT and the Media: The horse's mouth

IT and the Media: The horse's mouth

On the ninth of September, Recognition PR staged its second Understand the IT Media seminar, a panel discussion for PR, marketing and channel representatives to meet and hear from members of the IT press. ARN invited Martha Raupp of Recognition PR to report on the discussionRecognition invited a panel of 18 editors, publishers and analysts to discuss their needs when dealing with PR, marketing and channel people. During the day, speakers from the major IT and business media spoke on four aspects of dealing with the media: news, facts and getting the message right; maximising coverage; refining the approach; and understanding publications' needs.

The seminar provided reliable insight for PR, marketing and channel people keen to understand how the media works and how to improve their publicity. Each presenter had unique points, but the overall message of the day was that journalists rely on information to do their job. They're happy to hear from you, as long as you take the time to try to understand the unique needs of the publication they write for.

Emma Connors of the Australian Financial Review said news is an event, a happening, a change. Money is news, especially a company making or losing a lot of it very quickly or in some unique way.

Intrigue is news. An alliance is not especially interesting, but an alliance that involves two former enemies is interesting. Disagreements, falling-outs and legal action are all news. In fact, anything which is bad news is news. A multimillion dollar project that failed to deliver is usually more interesting than one which did.

The unusual is news. A local area network installation in a psychiatric institution, for instance, has more potential to get publicity than one in a small accounting firm.

An influential person's view is news, particularly if the person has a lot of money or clout.

A day in the life of a journalist

Mark Hollands from The Australian pointed out that journalists work to deadlines that vary according to the frequency of the publication (monthly, weekly, daily). The Australian prints an IT section every Tuesday, but because different sections within the IT section are printed at different times, every day is a deadline. So don't worry about the best time to call, just pick up the phone.

David Higgins, of the Sydney Morning Herald, outlined five steps to helping raise the profile of press releases.

Identify each publication, its readership, its style and each journalist. Talk to both the editor and the advertising manager and keep the information current.

Understand that IT media is no different than any other business. Editors are motivated by the same thing any company manager is - growing profit and eliminating costs. To do that in publishing means to increase circulation and attract advertising. To do that, editorial must fit the criteria of the audience.

Understand why US stories sometimes usurp local releases. The US story usually arrives earlier, so the publication has a better chance of exclusivity and it may contain more information than a local version does. Wire stories are less expensive for a publication than writing a local story, and contain quotes from more senior company officials.

Increase your coverage from localised releases. Post local releases to the Web. Coordinate timing so the local release is distributed at the same time as the US version. Target the release to each publication. Write in point form, not story style.

If all else fails, sound desperate.

Delivering the message

Philip Sim, editor of Australian Reseller News, told the audience the avenue used to deliver the message depends on the story's news value, and which publications will be interested in that kind of story. Be realistic and match the story to the appropriate method.

The press release is for information that's fairly ordinary, supported by photos, or for non-time-sensitive stories. A release does not intrude on the journalist, is useful for general information and should include local pricing, details and official comment.

Set expectations accordingly - don't expect information from a press release to be run, especially if the same release goes out to many publications. Never call a journalist to ask if he/she received your release and if it will be run. You can, however, call with more information appropriate to that specific publication, giving the journalist the chance to write a unique story.

Interviews

Journalists are more likely to attend an interview if it isn't overly time consuming. Conversely, the more time the journalist takes at an interview, the more likely they are to write a story. However, there must be enough news for a story. There's no point organising an interview if there is not a strong news angle.

Press conferences are undoubtedly the best way of reaching many people at once with a strong news story. You are more likely to get coverage from a press conference, especially if you also give individual journalists time for their own questions.

All publications like exclusives. Exclusives are good for building relationships with the selected media, and can often lead to bigger coverage. At the same time, remember competing publications won't be happy to miss out. Select a publication that is appropriate for the story; it's no good giving a scoop to a publication if it doesn't coincide with the publication's target audience. Instead of being a front page lead in the right publication, it could end up a small paragraph in the middle of the paper.

Getting publicity in New Zealand

Adrienne Perry from New Zealand's InfoTech Weekly said that although New Zealand is a small market, there is ongoing interest there. And because it's different to Australia, your approach needs to be altered accordingly.

There are only seven outlets for IT media: two national weekly business papers with freelance IT editors; two national weekly specialist publications (NZ InfoTech Weekly and ComputerWorld) and three monthlies (PC World, NZ Computer and InfoTech Office). The most important thing to remember is that the New Zealand press is for the main part not concerned with Australian stories. New Zealanders are interested in what's happening in New Zealand and how that particular news story will impact on them.

Venues and overseas trips

John Costello, ComputerWorld's founding and current editor, spoke about subjects close to the hearts of many journalists - free lunches and junkets. He said there are eight basics that need to take place when booking an overseas trip:

Clearly identify the area the vendor is covering on the trip. Make sure the topic is of interest to the publication.

Offer the trip to the editor. Never negotiate a trip directly with a journalist. The editor will decide which of his or her staff to send.

Spell out exactly what the vendor is paying for: Airfares? Accommodation for all nights? Overseas ground transport? Food?

Ask about frequent flyer points, and if possible offer the editor their choice of airline.

Select the easiest route. For long overseas trips, make sure to book the easiest route, with the least layover time.

Clearly designate one person to take control. One person should be in charge of the trip, from travel arrangements to contacting the journalist. This reduces misunderstandings, meaning the journalist will spend more time on the reason for the trip and less time working out details with multiple contacts.

Book and confirm airlines as soon as the journalist is confirmed. Waitlisting may cause the journalist to cancel.

Book business class for any trip more than five hours. Don't expect a journalist to jump off a plane from economy class and be fresh to write a story.

There are a few basics to remember for a successful press conference:

Communicate only one message. Never launch more than one product at an event.

Try the office for a change of pace. Venues like the Sheraton and Observatory are overused.

Buffet style catering is a safe bet. It's probably cheaper and easier to hire an external caterer for the vendor's office.

Take care of getting the journalist there and back. Send two Cabcharge dockets so the journalist can get there free.

Trips, lunches and exclusives are all ways in which you can build relationships with the media. Sue Ashton-Davies from The Australian offered her own insights.

Building relationships with individual journalists is critical to help stand out among the deluge of information. Each journalist is different, so use sense to approach each one individually. Some general things to remember about building relationships effectively are:

No motherhood statements. Buzzwords like "market leaders", "knowledge management" and "world-class" are overused to the point where they have no value. Journalists don't want the marketing or sales spiel, they just want facts and information.

Be honest. Tell us up front what a story is. Don't oversell it, and don't sell it unless you're completely sure that the story will be ready, and people are available to speak. If something happens, let the journalist know, and don't try to cover anything up.

Have good follow-through. Make sure a one-on-one interview doesn't turn into a six-on-one. Direct the photo shoot so we get the shot we need. And have materials prepared and ready to go.

Images

Helen Dancer of Australian Personal Computer pointed out that images can help the story get published. Newspapers and magazines view the importance of images differently. For newspapers, a good image can make the difference between front page and no coverage at all. Several factors make a good image:

Make sure it has good resolution. Transparencies are best.

Save some shots for exclusive use and pitch those with the story.

Make sure the image fits the publication's style. Don't send black-and-white photos to a colour magazine.

If you get a wide angle shot, the publication has the chance to make it unique by cropping it.

Some publications use their own photographer, but you should always have a photo ready. As a rule, don't send photos that you will need back, but if you must have it back, pre-arrange it with the journalist.

Handling bad news

Beverly Head of The Australian Financial Review said the key to managing bad news is to recognise that you can't keep it hidden forever. So the question is how to let it emerge. Know the publication, know the journalists, and make a decision on how to handle it based on common sense.

A company has three options: say nothing, answer "no comment" and hope it goes away; take internal action and come clean with the press; select a sympathetic journalist to leak the story. Recently, there's been a fourth option: posting the company's side of the story on the Internet.

No option is completely wrong, nor is any one right all the time. The option you choose should be the one that makes most sense depending on the circumstances.


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