While your personal opinion of today’s mass media may not be high, the tech industry’s media is still a trusted entity, and getting your name in one of the well-regarded e-zines or publications can elevate your professional status.
“Whatever you think about the media, they still have a halo,” said Steven Yoder, author of Get Slightly Famous, a book about using the media to advance business goals. “People who appear as experts [in the media] immediately position themselves as subject matter experts.”
Becoming a trusted source or being featured in an in-depth article isn’t a snap. You need good communication and networking skills. You also must know how to work with editors and reporters to ensure that the media spotlight doesn’t hurt or hinder your career.
Notoriety can pay off
Being quoted is helpful in several ways. First, it adds a unique element to your skills portfolio, and it adds to your value when and if you start looking for a new job.
Executive headhunters very often use industry publications—the trades—as candidate sources when seeking a high-level executive. Any mention—even a minor one—gets attention, explained John Sacke, principal of Sacke & Associates, Inc. “If they’ve [recruiters] got a job for a director of IT, they will go to the newswires and see who was quoted that day,” Sacke said.
Two American and two Canadian wire services—PR Newswire and Business Wire in the United States, and Canada NewsWire and CCN Matthews in Canada—typically pick up hot technology pieces from the trade publications.
Being quoted in the trades in a story that is then carried by wire services can label you as a rising star, which could accelerate a promotion.
“One of the best ways to get visibility in the enterprise is for his or her associates, superiors, or subordinates to see that person’s name in print,” Sacke said.
How to make contact
You can reach out to trade editorial sources in several ways, but first make sure you understand your company’s media approach and how it handles media inquiries.
IT executives must be aware of the corporate policies concerning speaking with reporters. At the same time, internal or external press relation staff should be aware that executives are open to holding a phone or face-to-face interview with a reporter. Many times there is a disconnect between a public relations team and the corporate executives.
“You call these places and the IT person says 'I don’t know if they will let me talk about that,’ or you call the PR department and they say, 'Oh, Joe Blow never gives interviews, he’s impossible to get hold of,’” said Terry Sweeney, a long-time technology journalist. “It’s just a matter of everyone being clear on who’s available.”
Sweeney, who also works as a media consultant and helps PR departments and IT executives map out good media procedures, noted that it’s an effort that only works well if both parties are dedicated.
“The [the PR team] should flag consultants or executives they have available for press interviews on a certain day, and work to get sources to talk about what they are doing or trumpet this new megabit back plane or whatever.”
He also noted that IT executives can always pick up the phone themselves, if the corporate media plan approves, to introduce themselves and ignite a conversation that could lead to a story.
“They shouldn’t be shy about going the direct route and pinging a reporter or a managing editor directly,” Sweeney said. “Say something along the lines of, 'I love your publication. Feel free to pass my coordinates on to the staff as a resource for wireless, or whatever it is.’”
Yoder agreed. He said executives should keep a file of which reporters cover areas in which they are experts. You can also maintain a Web site outlining your qualifications and background.
Say it clearly and make sure you're right
Getting in touch with media writers is just half the battle. The other challenge is to actually get quoted.
First, listen to the reporter when he talks about why he’s calling you and what his story will focus on. In many cases, a subject doesn’t specially address the question asked by the reporter so his or her comments won’t make the article. The key is to determine precisely what the reporter wants to know.
Reporters don’t have a great deal of time to chat. When talking to a reporter, evaluate whether it seems that they're seeking a detail or an opinion that suggests they’ve already studied the issues closely and are well along in the story? Or are they asking broad, general questions that suggest that they're just getting started? Once you figure out what a reporter needs, provide insight and information in an unambiguous and declarative manner.
It’s a similar approach to heading out on the public speaking circuit. “Speak slowly and answer the reporter’s question in a three-pronged way,” Sacke advised. “The typical question is open-ended. The reporter may ask, 'What is the future of XYZ?’ There are three steps to providing an answer. First say, ‘I think the future is buoyant.’ That’s step one. Then elaborate: ‘The future is buoyant because the capital markets are opening up, etc.’ Then close and say, 'That's why we believe the future is buoyant.’”
No matter what you do during an interview, don’t alienate a writer or editor. It just takes one "burn" to knock you off the media source list. The goal is not to make the interview about you or your knowledge, it’s to provide information and use that knowledge to help inform the publication’s readers.
Sacke also noted that it’s not a good idea to ask to approve an article before publication; most professional trades won’t allow it. “It’s a terrible idea to say that….It is tacitly implying that the reporter isn’t really knowledgeable,” Sacke said. “That can easily alienate the reporter.”
Finally, don’t ask the reporter when the story is going to appear. “The reporter isn’t a fortune teller,” Sacke said. “They are in the business of writing articles.”
There’s no denying that you can help both your company and yourself by being quoted in the press. The trick, according to reporters and media experts, is to understand that getting in the media spotlight is the result of shrewd thinking, a collaborative effort with internal PR folks, and preparation. Once a media person realizes you’re a good source of information and a good interview, you won’t have to wait long before the phone rings again.