If I have a hidden talent, it’s putting my foot in my mouth; I might blithely tell you how much your child looks like his stepdad, accidentally mistake your wife for your mother or even re-gift you a present you bought for me last year. Because “foot-in-mouth” is my speciality.
But, with a faux pas, after a few red-faced moments, all is soon forgotten.
Unfortunately, that’s not true when speaking with journalists, where what you say might end up being immortalized in print. That possibility can be quite daunting for new entrepreneurs and founders.
Not that you should let that put you off seeking press for your startup. Because media coverage can be an enormous win for your company. Not only is third-party or expert content up to 88 percent percent more effective than branded content, but it can gain you exposure in new markets, and set you up as an expert in your field, which will raise your industry profile.
Want to get better at the journalism game? There are unwritten rules aplenty, but if you avoid saying or doing the following five things, you’ll keep your relationship with the media as healthy as possible.
1. ‘I’ll pay you to write it.’
Nothing will turn a journalist’s milk sour quite like an indecent proposal. Journalists write about news. Period. If you have an interesting story, and it relates to a particular journalist’s beat, by all means pitch it. If your company is doing something new or noteworthy, you’re “in.” Enjoy your shot of media coverage.
Alternately, as soon as you offer a journalist money to cover your story, you’ll be breaking an ethical code which will likely get you blacklisted, not only by that journalist, but by all his or her colleagues, friends, family and pets. Most journalists value their careers far more than your offer. So . . . don’t do it. Offering to pay will be a sure-fire way of saying goodbye to a good contact and decent media coverage — forever.
On the other hand, dismiss any journalist who asks that you pay, in cash or kind, for coverage. TechCrunch’s heartfelt apology for a number of incidents involving an intern requesting a Macbook Air from a startup in return for a write-up gives you an idea of just how serious this problem can be.
Paid, or “native,” content is a legitimate way of supporting the media — and there’s nothing wrong with contacting a publication to post a native ad or sponsored article. Just make sure you contact the marketing department, not the editorial one.
2. ‘I must review it before you publish.’
Although it may be nerve-wracking, once the interview ends and the notepad has closed, you have no control over the outcome. It’s a journalist’s prerogative to write his or her own story, and you can’t expect to impose any influence. As an interviewee, you have no right to ask to review the article before it goes to print.
Occasionally, a reporter may call to double-check a fact for accuracy, but that will be as far as it goes. So, avoid the temptation, and just wait for your story to come out.
If there are mistakes, by all means get in touch and politely explain what should be corrected. Most journalists will gladly add a note and correction to the article, indicating that errors occurred.
3. ‘Can you hold, please?’ or, Sorry, let’s do it another day.’
Nothing brings forth the gnashing of journalistic teeth quite like being asked to call back. With rapidly diminishing newsrooms and mounting pressure to write more and more stories, journalists have far less time on their hands than they used to.
When a journalist asks to interview you about your product, company launch or new product, don’t let the opportunity slip. Ask this individual to call you back, or come to the office another day — and there goes your media coverage.
So, treat journalists as you would a well-respected venture capitalist thinking of making an investment in your company. Their time is their money, and they really don’t owe you anything.
4. ‘Is this is off the record?’
“You know, my business partner wears a terrible wig. That’s off the record, right?”
Wrong. And there’s that faux pas again.
Please confirm that what you are about to say is “off the record,” before you say it. Unless agreed upon, anything you say is fair game. And, believe me, if it’s juicy, it’s going into the story.
Need confirmation? We all know what happened to Donald Trump and Billy Bush. Their disturbing conversation laughing about sexual assault was caught on tape — “When you’re a star, they let you do it”- -and it was perfectly legal for that to be made public (though Trump has threatened to sue).
Of course, that’s an extreme example, but the same goes for emails, text messages, Post-it notes: Anything you say or write down may be included in the article. So, those angry tweets? They’re going in. Those private Facebook messages? Front-page news.
Anything, in fact, that you say may be used for or against you, so always think before you speak, tweet or email.
5. ‘You didn’t include me in your article.’
Journalists interview a whole range of different people all the time. En route, they build up backgrounds enabling them to really understand a story and tell it in a clear and comprehensive way.
Unfortunately, not every interview makes the cut, and some interviewees are left out of the final story. This may be the journalist’s decision, or a copy editor may take it out so that the story fits its layout. Of course, if you’re the one getting left out, you may feel quite frustrated, especially when you were hoping to boost your business with a mention in a great feature.
But none of that matters. What does is how you react.
Journalists hate being berated for ignoring an interviewee’s story. So, whatever you do, don’t complain. One angry email from you, and they’ll cross you off their contact list for the next story.
Instead, write to the journalist with congratulations on the article; this will set you up as a willing source for the future, and you never know what good might come out of it for you or your company.
Dealing with the media can be a difficult and delicate process, but it is also extremely rewarding. Remember to treat journalists with professional respect, and recognize that you are potentially presenting your company to hundreds of thousands of people. So, prepare and practice beforehand, and you’ll be excited by another big step for your company.