A Word to My PR Homies: On Competition

Hey holmes!

And a good day to you, sir! I hope you guys are having a lovely day so far. Me, I’m always having a good day. Y’all my bread and butter, and you work very hard to keep me and the nine billion other journalists on the planet happy and able to do our jobs.

Well, speaking of those nine billion other journalists, let’s get right down to brass tacks today: There aren’t really nine billion, but sometimes, it sure feels like there are.

As a journo, the best feeling you can have is that shiny, brilliant, “you heard it hear first” feeling. Breaking a story feels like having a kid or getting paroled early.

On the contrary, being told about a story after your competitors have already covered it feels like crap. You get the put-upon girlfriend syndrome. “Why was I not good enough”? you cry to your editor over Skype. “He told me it was exclusive. I’m not even sure that word means anything anymore.”

Word to My PR Homies #5: Be knowledgeable and graceful with us and our competitors.

Never, ever so much as hint to a journalist that you’re giving him an exclusive, a preview, or a first crack if other outlets know about your client or product. You know that’s what we want to hear, and you know breathing those sexy little words will increase your chances of getting press coverage, which is a big part of your job description.

But guess what? You can pull that trick exactly once. With some of the better equipped journos, you can never pull that trick. If they’ve been burned, they’ll comb their competitors’ blogs for prior coverage, and your game will be out in the open before you can say, “But it was under embargo.”

(A little side note for those in the trade: Some blogs have policies about embargoes and whether or not those [arguably arbitrary] deadlines will be honored. Make it your business to know which are which, and proceed accordingly.)

Also, please be understanding of the fact that if your exciting but (for now, at least) small-potatoes startup has just launched a couple new features and one of my competitors has already written it up a couple days ago, including that link in your email to me is a red flag that I don’t need to cover the story. It sounds harsh, but let me tell you why:

The Sloppy Seconds Rule of Tech Journalism: Your press release is like a chick. If my buddy already “dated” her, I don’t want to “date” her unless she’s really, really, really hot.

And that’s why I can’t cover your 20,000-users-strong Facebook app two days after Mashable writes it up. It’s also why every blog published at least two posts each about Bing and Wave last week. Those chicks were really, really, really hot.

The very best things to do are 1) promise and deliver an exclusive, or 2) play fair with everybody, sending the same release at the same time.

It’s chauvinistic, but just think of your release as a chick, and make that chick’s mother proud.

Love you guys! Thanks so much again for making my job possible and – some days – quite a pleasure!

8 thoughts on “A Word to My PR Homies: On Competition

  1. Another useful one Jolie. BTW – when I sent the DM yesterday about a “possible” break – I only meant that I have no idea who else marketing is talking to on that product launch =)

  2. Did you ever go to church and feel like the entire sermon was written just for you?

    Ya, that’s kinda how I’m feeling about this series of posts…

    The truth hurts, but no one said being a startup was easy. Thanks for sharing. And for writing in such an entertaining, non-condescending way.

  3. Great thoughts, I think marketers and PR folks can learn a lot from this. And I hope they do. The bad apples in the bushel make the rest of us look worse.

    One question that I would love to hear your thoughts on: Pretend you are on the other side. Let’s assume you do PR/marketing at a company and have a piece of news that is genuinely interesting, enough so that it could warrant coverage in all of RWW, TC, Mashable and other top blogs in your industry, but it is not an announcement from Google or something that will get coverage from everyone no matter what.

    What is the best way to maximize your coverage, without being an a-hole and pissing bloggers off?

    If you given an “exclusive” to one top blogger, then you get one piece of good coverage, and some echo chamber coverage, but as you mention the other top blogs probably won’t cover it. If you give it to lots of people at the same time, they may or may not cover it because usually they ask for an “exclusive”.

    So, pretend you are me… what would you do to maximize your coverage?

  4. @Todd And that’s why I avoid church. 😉 I jest. Also… Did I get an email from you recently? I’m hella swamped at the moment, email-wise – approaching 1300 new messages. But I wanted you to know I saw your note in the ol’ inbox, and you’ve not been forgotten AT ALL! I appreciate your reading my stuff, and I hope we can work together to get a good post up for you soon. =)

    @Mike – What a truly fantastic question. To be completely fair, I’d write up the best pitch possible, contact your roster of tech bloggers (especially those with whom you’ve developed personal relationships), and give everyone a fair shot at coverage. If everyone gets your note at the same time, you’ll often see several simultaneous posts as a result.

    Here’s another really useful tip: If Mashable or TechCrunch already covered the startup in question, and you really want coverage on ReadWriteWeb, too, you could try contacting one or all of us and say something like, “Hey guys, TC and Mash already wrote up our company, but they missed these important features or didn’t consider this other use case. I also have this additional material/quote/screenshot…” The point is, if you can show us how our coverage could be slightly different or better, we’ll take a crack at it. That’s the other aspect of competition: Although breaking a story first is awesome, it’s a great feeling to know that your version of the story is one of the best.

  5. It’s all good – I know you’ve been on the road and I’m sure you’re swamped. I look forward to working with you – if you have questions, need clarifications or want a demo login to play with let me know.

    You really ought to write a book on this stuff. If you don’t mind, I’m definitely going to be sharing some of it in future presentations.

  6. Great info. The idea about telling one blogger what others missed is a good one. Thanks! if you are ever in Boston, swing by HubSpot for ping pong or foosball and if it i a Friday, HubSpot TV…

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