Since becoming a contributor at Forbes I’ve had the new experience of being contacted several times each week by PR firms on behalf of their clients, and less frequently by companies themselves. The PR firms are hoping I will write a story on Forbes about their clients. The companies are hoping I’ll write a story about them. This is nothing new, it has been going on for as long as the press has existed. It’s only natural for companies to want good press, and for an industry to spring up that helps companies get good press better or cheaper than they could get it for themselves.
I, for one, do not mind being contacted by PR firms, nor by companies themselves. Look, as a writer covering startups and entrepreneurship I want to write about awesome companies. If you can help me find good stories, saving me time and effort, then why wouldn’t I want to talk to you? But there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach a journalist (if I dare call myself that). On the LEWIS PR blog there is a post listing 10 ways PR firms and companies can annoy a journalist and decrease the odds of that journalist ever working with you. It’s a good read. Allow me to add one more tip for PR firms and companies looking for coverage–make sure you understand what a journalist is interested in before you contact him/her. This might sound a bit like Tip #1 on the LEWIS list “You clearly have never, and will never, write about this subject. But here it is anyway…” but it’s different.
What I’ve seen happen several times now is that I write an article on Forbes, and after the article is published I receive a few emails from companies and PR firms saying “I saw your article on such and such topic. My client/company also works in that space, maybe you’d like to write an article about them, too.” What many of these PR firms and companies are doing is misunderstanding why I wrote the story I did. Case in point, I wrote a story a few months ago about three companies doing innovative things for diabetics. Over the course of the next week I received several emails from other companies also providing products and services for diabetics. If they had taken the time to look through the articles I’ve already written, they would have quickly seen that I don’t write about diabetics, but I am interested in startups and innovation. The chances of me ever writing another article that has anything to do with diabetes is slim to none. I’ve already covered it as much as I want to.
PR Firms and companies should analyze everything that is interesting about what their client/company does. Yes, the company might be focused on diabetes, but is the company also disrupting a market/industry? Then contact journalists who are interested in disruptive innovation. Is the company a startup? Contact a journalist who likes writing about startups. Is the company based in Omaha, Nebraska? Contact a journalist who writes about companies in Omaha, Nebraska. In the case of the diabetes article, although I approached two of the companies in that article because I was already aware of them, one of the companies approached me. They didn’t know I would be willing to do a story related to diabetes, but they knew I was interested in startups, and they had a startup, so that’s where the connection was.
Someone here in Hong Kong recently approached me the right way. He contacted me and said he wanted to talk to me about a company he was working with because he saw that I had been writing about startups in Asia. We met, he told me about the company, and he asked me if I’d be interested in doing a story on it. If I hadn’t been interested in it, I would have politely declined. But it turned out to be a very interesting company that is targeting a need I have myself experienced. I agreed to write a story. He provided me with pertinent details about the company, I did some of my own research, I put the story together, and published it. Full disclosure: he also bought me a cup of hot chocolate when we first met.
Getting publicity need not be difficult, but it might be more difficult than blasting out emails to journalists you don’t know. This can work, but an extra few minutes of research on the journalist can be the difference between coming across as someone who blasts out emails to as many journalists as possible, and someone who carefully researches journalists to contact the right ones who might be interested in the story you have to tell. I would err on the side of quality rather than quantity.
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