Don’t sabotage your media coverage

The below is an extract of a timely article reflecting what I’ve been shouting out to our local entrepreneurs for the longest time while carrying my duties as a journalist and editor.

Published on Forbes.
com (By Elizabeth MacBride), 13 August 2014

5 Ways Entrepreneurs Sabotage Their Own Media Coverage

I talk to many entrepreneurs and business owners as a journalist. Many are eager for more coverage. Lately, I’ve been speaking with entrepreneurs in emerging markets, who seem to want stories written about their companies even more. But often, entrepreneurs shoot themselves in the foot during the interview or as I ask questions afterwards.

In the interests of better communication and less wasting time, I put together this list of mistakes, sort of a very mini-media training, for entrepreneurs seeking coverage.

Media relations

1. Not sharing numbers.

Numbers mean everything. If you are not prepared to share at least some hard facts about your company, why bother to get in touch? That’s especially true if you are making assertions about your company. If you say you are the largest, by what measure? If you say you are the fastest-growing, by what rate and measured against which competitors? It is routine for privately held companies to share year-over-year revenue figures and, if they are VC-backed and haven’t started generating significant revenue yet, their funding totals and their investors, plus some other number, like the number of trials or customers.

2. Lying. This should be obvious, but: Don’t lie.

I have encountered a handful of outright lies over the years. When I was covering health care as a very young reporter, the CEO of a local hospital used to lie about his competitors, the other hospitals and surgery centers in town. Before I figured out what he was doing, I wasted a lot of time chasing down bad tips he gave me.

3. Obfuscating.

Lying is pretty rare. Obfuscation is common. For instance, entrepreneurs might say they are the leader in a particular market, or introduced a technology. Later, I’ll find out that objective observers think another company deserves the credit. The hubristic claims weren’t out-and-out lies, but they still cause me to mistrust the entrepreneur. At best, it makes me doubt the entrepreneur’s ability to separate truth from ego.

A better approach is to explain why you’re making a claim and add what an objective observer might say about what makes your company different or better. You get a lot of credit for being up front.

4. Hiring public relations people who deliberately stir the pot.

Some PR people are great. They help shape stories, pin executives down and wrangle interviews. Thank you to all of those.

But some, unfortunately, prove their worth to clients — that’s you, entrepreneurs — by creating conflicts with journalists and then solving them. Especially after a story is published, the public relations team will call an executive, flabbergasted at something published in the story. It’s often a minor thing: a word choice that’s not quite in the lexicon the company has decided is best, or a phrase with a debatable meaning.

A PR company that seizes on the issue can argue that it’s a disaster, which leads to the conclusion that you not only need the PR team to call the media outlet, but that you must hire the PR team to manage all of your media relationships for you.

Meanwhile, the PR team is doing a lot of damage to your relationship with the particular reporter and sometimes the media outlet in question. A better approach: If there’s a mistake in a story, tell me. I’ll fix it or make sure it is fixed ASAP. If there’s a nuance I didn’t capture, call me to tell me about it so I can incorporate it into a story next time around.

Journalists don’t need the drama created by public relations companies whose main interest is cementing their own revenue stream in the short term. You don’t, either.

5. Avoiding emails and calls.

If you’re not going to tell me something, just tell me that. It’s a journalist’s job to be persistent, and we will be. But it would be great if you just let us know if there’s something that you don’t want to share, and why. Then we won’t waste time in a fruitless endeavor, and you’ve won appreciation for being straightforward.

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