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While many were anxiously awaiting the results of the Iowa caucuses yesterday, tech media were caught up in another drama. They were buzzing about $793 million funding for Magic Leap, a secretive startup now valued at $4B.
The back and forth was about what Magic Leap will deliver, and whether they’ll live up to the hype – see the following tweets:
Magic Leap’s strategy is apparently to hype itself like Segway did back in the day. https://t.co/56oWTKMHIf this is a bad strategy.
— Dieter Bohn (@backlon) February 2, 2016
Magic leap raises a ton of money, still have no clue what it doeshttps://t.co/Ps79Yc4KbB
— ಠ_ಠ (@MikeIsaac) February 2, 2016
Just means you’re getting old. https://t.co/LVPHuKC4WP
— Arik Hesseldahl (@ahess247) February 2, 2016
This is how Gizmag described Magic Leap:
“… it appears to [create] the illusion of 3D objects in the user’s field of vision…. Magic Leap’s device … beams a digital light field onto the user’s retinas.”
That actually does sound very cool. But language geek that I am, I latched onto the words some articles used to describe the technology: “mixed reality”.
Ahhh, reality used to be so – um, real – and much simpler. These days we have many flavors: virtual, augmented, and now mixed.
That is great, but if you work in tech PR, you should avoid another kind of reality: distorted.
Distorted reality is when companies exaggerate. I always say “promise less, deliver more”, but the following articles detail journalists’ frustrations about overstated capabilities in cloud services and DevOps.
Wall Street Journal: When it Comes to Tech Services, Cloud can be a Nebulous Term
These are the words most junior PR account executives fear hearing from clients about press releases submitted for review. But it was Donald Trump that just said them, in tweets and interviews, about a statement that Fox News issued yesterday.
Fox tried to use humor and taunts in a last ditch attempt to goad Donald into joining tonight’s presidential debate. Apparently, an article would not be journalistic – so they chose that good old staple of ginned up news, the press release, to send the message.
(I guess humor is subjective. What do you think, was it funny or not? Here’s an excerpt, as cited here: “We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.”)
Well, It is now the eleventh hour, and it seems that the Fox News mock statement backfired. Trump really is taking his ball and going home. To the network’s credit, they did not yield to his demands that they remove Megyn Kelly as a moderator.
So who won? I guess that remains to be seen. But it is pretty clear that the press release idea helped seal the deal against his participation – likely not Fox’s intended result.
Meanwhile, the episode made me curious about other fake news releases and their consequences.
I asked our team for examples, and they sent these:
New York Enterprise Tech Meetup is one of my favorite tech events in the city. So I quickly signed up when my friend John Kaczala (also a NYETM regular) alerted me to the January session, about getting press for startups, and its star panel of tech journalists: Jonathan Shieber of TechCrunch, Robert Hackett of Fortune, Alex Konrad of Forbes, and Jing Cao of Bloomberg.
This meetup was interesting for several reasons. Most startups would be thrilled to get coverage in any of these publications – yet this can be a tall order. So it was nice to hear about the journalists’ preferences first hand. These are NYC-based reporters, who are closer to home than Silicon Valley-based press.
The moderator (Mickey Graham of Work-Bench) asked great questions, and the panelists answered – it was all very amiable and informative (I thought there might be more fireworks, given the competition in tech journalism).
Some common themes emerged. Warm intros help. You should know the reporter and publication, and tailor the pitch. But pinging them on a topic they just wrote about likely won’t work. They do try to read your emails, but can’t respond to all. Be interesting but brief. Follow up but don’t spam. Embargoes and exclusives can work, with certain caveats. Disruption is a great story.
The demo portion is an important part of every NYETM, and I should mention that were some very cool demos before the panel took the stage – see the end of this post for further details. But first, the panel Q and A:
How do you feel about startups reaching out to you?
- Cao reads every email. “Send an email and follow up in week.”
- Hackett welcomes pitches, but doesn’t respond to all.
- Konrad he hates calls. Emails are fine, he likes intros.
- Shieber reads emails too: “You never know when the next pitch is going to be a great company.” He added “one follow up is fine, the third time is never a charm.”
How can they rise above the noise?
- Shieber: “Warm intros are the way to go.”
Does it help to bring on a PR firm that has relationships?
- Cao said it depends on stage of the company, and helps if the firm has the right connections.
- Konrad pointed out that he was a mentor-in-residence at Techstars, and said: “PR firms can help if you’re really aligned. Be up front from the beginning about your goals.”
What news does it take to get covered?
- Hackett doesn’t do product news. He said “be interesting, stick to core aspects. Make it as short as possible.” He likes to learn about esoteric subjects, and covers cyber security, but you can pitch him even if you’re not in that field. He has a “hopper of ideas” that he lets “marinate” and is receptive to pitches and briefings that help him advance these stories.
- Konrad gets a lot of product pitches. “If the news has a surprise, or challenges an incumbent like Apple, send it to me.” Otherwise you’d be better off pitching a blog.
- Shieber: “Know your audience, don’t pitch me the same thing you would to a trade publication.”
- Cao likes to meet people and doesn’t need a specific story. If she gets to know you first over coffee, then she’s more likely to recall you and be receptive to a pitch.
What about exclusives and embargoes – do these work?
- Cao: “It can help with coverage, but is not a sure thing.” She added that Series A funding can be a tough sell to an editor if it is less than $40M.
- Hackett: “Exclusives can make a difference, they can help.”
- Konrad: “An embargo feels contrived.” Also, don’t contact him with the news that you’re announcing funding tomorrow, it is too short notice. Work within the journalist’s timing.
How far in advance should a startup pitch before news goes live?
- Shieber: “It depends on complexity of story.”
Whom do you want to hear from? Should the pitch come from the CEO?
- Shieber doesn’t want to speak with marketing, he wants to be able to ask probing questions.
- Alex disagreed, saying that marketing can be helpful if they advocate for a story, or push the CEO to get a customer for example.
- Shieber: “But you’d want to speak to the CEO, right?”
- Cao urged not to promise something that you can’t back up.
- Hackett:”Fortune prides itself in our relationships with top executives.”
What about contributed articles?
- Shieber: “That is my job, I love getting contributions.” He prefers quality over quantity, adding “but quantity is a great way to make money.” He also added that he likes new writers, and tries to champion them.
- Konrad said they love contributors, but reject stories that are overt marketing. “Don’t be intellectually insulting,” he said.
The following questions were from the audience:
How do you validate pitches? Does it help if a major VC is a backer?
- Shieber said “I trust but verify.” He added: “Just be good, be right.”
- Konrad tries to find out about your expertise, and understand motives – e.g., why are you so interested in weighing in on Apple’s news?
What milestones do you care about?
- Cao: “Dramatic growth, like going from $0-100M in one year.”
- Konrad: “Anything your peers would be shocked about, e.g. getting your first $1M contract. Milestones that change the broader market.”
What about getting scooped by social media? Which platform is a viable competitor?
- Konrad: “CB Insights does a good job of checking filings.”
- Shieber is seeing more people circumvent the press process, e.g. by issuing a Medium post.
What about pitches that refer to one of your stories? Do they work?
- Cao said that if she just wrote about something, she doesn’t want to think about revisiting the topic for another year. Just ask for a meeting.
- Shieber: “Be succinct. Point out how your news fits in a trend.”
- Hackett: “Save us time.”
Before the panel, two vendors showed their wares. Datavore, founded by Goldman Sachs alumni, demonstrated adaptive analytics for financial services that empowers business users with sophisticated BI capabilities. VTS demonstrated their cloud-based commercial real estate leasing and portfolio management platform.
NY Times reporter Farhad Manjoo wrote a nice story that highlighted the growing problem of tech illiteracy and its implications. He wrote:
“People in the tech industry… act as if the products they build sit at the center of everything. But this year, the techies were right… not only did tech dominate the news, it often moved too quickly for politicians, regulators, law enforcement officials and the media to understand its implications.”
He goes on to list some of the big stories in which tech played a starring role, and our collective failure to connect the dots. Examples include cyber security, the VW scandal, Hillary’s emails, and the central role of social media in political campaigns and grassroots movements (e.g., Trump’s, the Black Lives Matter movement).
The article made an impression on me, as I read it right after seeing the movie the Big Short, from the Michael Lewis book, which illustrated the consequences of financial illiteracy. If more institutions took the time to understand the house of cards being built on the mortgage industry at the time, disaster may have been averted.
I think most would not argue about the central role technology plays in our lives. We can reasonably expect that it will continue to be featured in headlines. It also seems clear that there’s a collective ignorance, just challenge anyone (outside of the real techies) to explain nitty gritty details of Bitcoins, mobile payments, encryption, IoT etc.
I submit that PR, through our work with the media, can play a role in improving tech literacy.
First, I believe that the media should be held to a higher standard when it comes to uncovering and acting on information that can lead to change. The Fourth Estate is unrestrained by the bureaucracy of politics. It is a free press here in the U.S. and many other parts of the world.
The good news is the PR industry, and the tech vendors that we represent, are willing and able to spend the time needed to bring the media up-to-speed. There is a veritable army of PR reps and vendor spokespeople who love nothing more than sitting down and getting geeky with a journalist.
Sure, we have an ulterior motive. But we (most of us, anyway) also are happy to deliver background or informational briefings and understand that they come with no coverage guarantees. The rules of the game say that, in return, the journalist can get a crash course. OK, it is from a vendor’s perspective, but reporters are free to challenge and dig deep. We are happy to provide additional information and point out useful resources.
I don’t mean to imply that all (or even most) of the media are clueless about tech. And I fully understand that the problem is not just literacy. Reporters are under pressures that might discourage good old shoe leather journalism, as news cycles diminish and many are incentivized by quantity and clicks (a trend driven by – you guessed it – tech).
I am just saying that, for those who want to take the time to get smarter, there are many vendors fronted by PR pros to help out and get you the information you need.
The NYC PR Innovators meetup hosted a session on The Art (and Science) of the PR Pitch at District CoWork last week, where I participated as a panelist. Over 50 people attended, and organizer Erin Commarato ran a very lively and interactive session.
I am new to this meetup but will definitely be coming back, as I am extremely interested in PR innovation. Also, any forum dedicated to improving pitching is a great one, in my book.
There was lots of give and take, and just about everyone got a chance to ask questions and share thoughts. Co-panelist Roger Wu of Cooperatize spoke about new opportunities in branded content, and Stacey Miller of Cision’s HARO (Help a Reporter Out) offered data and insight gleaned from her HARO role and media feedback. Not everyone agreed, but the forum gave all a chance to chime in. With Erin’s guidance and the panel’s input, we were able to build consensus on most of the topics.
Our own Mike Bush did a great job live tweeting (thanks, Mike!). I share these and other tweets about the event below below (check out the expressions on our faces when the panel is stumped with a tough question).
Thanks Erin, Roger, Stacey and NYC PR Innovators for a great meetup.