Archive for June 4th, 2008

On blowing your own trumpet and then engaging when somebody else wants a toot

Yesterday I did something I’d, unbelievably, not done before. Every now and then, I churn out something I’d quite like as many people as possible to read, and generate a bit of discussion on, so I go a bit beyond the usual methods of bookmarking on Digg and del.icio.us, and flagging it up on Facebook and Twitter [1].

Yesterday’s piece at Soccerlens on Ebbsfleet was one of those.

I’d put a fair bit of time, research, effort, and thought into discussing where the Kent club go as they prepare for their first full season under the ownership of MyFC, and wanted it to be seen beyond the regular readers, so I took the step of registering for the Ebbsfleet forums and posting a link to it.

So what, many of you will probably respond. You should have done that ages ago. Well, probably. But have you ever spent time on football forums. They can be a terrifying place if you’re not prepared and newcomers flogging their wares tend to get a pretty short shrift. The last thing I wanted to do was to get my audience in a bad mood before they’d even had a chance to read my incoherent ramblings.

I wonder if debutant CiF posters get the same feeling of trepidation when they post their maiden thoughts online?

But I’m glad I did. I don’t know the stats for the article, but it get a fair hearing on the forum and some interesting feedback and discussion surrounding it. There were points raised I’d not thought of and a couple of points that set me straight. In fact engaging in the forum discussion and comments after the article were one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in a long time (although that’s probably an indication that I should get out more).

Now, had I got a less positive reception, would I have felt the same? I don’t know. But I would have still engaged, regardless.

It’s why I’ve always got respect for journalists, such as Roy Greenslade, who are prepared to get involved in the comments to their pieces. It enhances the conversation, and usually earns a respect from the commentators involved. It’s one thing to let off steam behind the keyboard to an article you disagree with. It’s another thing to then have to respond when the journalist takes on board your points and is willing to debate.

I honestly believe the majority of reporters need to be prepared to engage with bloggers and commentators who critique their work (without spending days Googling the internet for negative comments) and occasionally swallowing their pride when one of their pieces gets ripped apart. There’ll be a lot more respect afterwards for joining in the conversation.

[1] It’s worth pointing out I don’t even do these every time. It largely depends on what I’ve written and where it is. I’m not fond of doing the online equivalent of leaping up and down and waiving my work around in the hope that somebody will pat me on my head and tell me how good I am. Partly because I’m never convinced what I do is actually ever, well, any good.

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Lessons in PR and journalism

The small spat between Techcrunch and TuneCore has provided a bit of minor entertainment on a slow afternoon, but also acts as a perfect example of getting both initial enquiries and PR strategy a bit on the wonky side.

[For those who don’t click the link: Techcrunch intern emails TuneCore press email, gets a slightly curt and defensive email back from TuneCore CEO (Why are you asking? How will this information be used? Who are you? Who funds you?), intern re-emails, gets a bit of a curt reply back].

There’s been a lot of (rather amusing) back and forth in the comment between those who think TuneCore’s CEO committed a howler and those who think the initial Techcrunch query was right to elicit the response it did.

Now the initial query looks harmless enough:

“Hello, I’m currently conducting research for TechCrunch’s company database (CrunchBase.com). Can you give me information on the funding TuneCore has had to date? Can you provide me with the rounds, amounts, dates and investors? Thanks for your help.

Peter”

In honesty, I’ve had a lot vaguer, confusing queries come my way. At least this is pretty easy to understand what they’re after. But if you’re a business and get an approach like this, I could see why you’d be wary, especially if it’s from a webmail account (gmail in this instance). Again, I’ve seen a few similar emails to this in the past which raise a few questions.

So, yes, there’s a web address on there, which helps, but when I was chasing stories or information from people who might not get contacted on a regular basis by the press or I hadn’t spoken to before, then this would all be laid out. And it was largely done by phone and probably still should be, if the person on the other end was contactable or there was a reasonably obvious number.

The web and social media is fantastic for building relationships and developing contacts but sometimes there’s just no substitute for picking up the phone, even if you have to repeat yourself in the email later. At least you get a rapport and can explain yourself and what you need in the first instance.

Now there’s a not unreasonable argument that if you’re a startup you should have heard of TechCrunch, but that’s still an assumption and in journalism and PR you should never assume anything. Just as with PR, the more information you can give, the better the response is likely to be.

But whatever the merits or otherwise of the initial enquiry, it certainly didn’t warrant the response it got. By all means query it but if the email was sent to a press contact address then you’ve got to accept that anything you say could end up in the public domain.

As for the language – fair enough, Jeff Price might not have been too impressed with the initial enquiry (and lord knows I’ve seen enough that make you want to headbutt the desk in sheer frustration) and may have even suspected the email was bogus. But, if it’s come through on the press contact email, as far as you know you’re dealing with the media until proven otherwise.

And, at the end of the day, there’s just no excuse for rudeness. You may think the enquiry isn’t worth your time, you may be in a bad mood, it may have caused you more problems than necessary, but a sarky line will kill any chance of building any future relationship with the organisation. It works on both sides – as a journalist, there were several PR people I’d do my best to avoid because they were more trouble than the story was worth. Similarly, PRs will mentally note any journalist that’s especially difficult to deal with and do the same.

Put simply, even if the person on the other end of the email or phone is making you want to scream, keeping it civil usually pays off in the long term. I’ll never forget the absolutely maddening PR person who rang back a few weeks later with a great lead.

As for setting the press email to send direct to the CEO, that’s just plain daft. Even if you want the CEO to respond to most requests, they’re likely to be a busy person. At the very least somebody should be filtering and responding before it gets there.

The whole Techcrunch post could be printed out and discussed in media training schools across the country, even if it was ultimately a bit unnecessary and achieved nothing bar providing a good giggle for anybody reading it.

As Mark Twain once said, it’s far better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re an idiot than to open it and confirm that.

And yes, given that I file anything relating to me under the category idiot, I most definitely would earn the disapproval of Mr. Twain.


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com