Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Developing a media strategy for your startup - Part 2: Responding to the media

This is part 2 of a 3 part series of posts. See part 1 here.

Journalists are busy people and a key part of their role is to ensure their have their stories completed before their dreaded publishing deadline. While you might have an interesting story to tell, if they can't tell it before their deadline they're not going to be able to write about you! And with so many people constantly pitching interesting stories to them, if you make it hard for them to write about you they're often going to go with the simpler path of writing about someone else.

We learnt this the hard way the week we launched Shoes of Prey. MX, the free paper that's handed out on trains in Sydney contacted us a couple of days after our launch to do a story on us. They needed some pictures of our shoes to help illustrate the story. We answered their questions over email then promised them we'd get some photos we had retouched so they were ready for publication. Unfortunately the retouchers we were using (who were doing us a favour by helping us) were busy and we couldn't get this work completed before the MX deadline, so the story didn't go ahead. MX have sister publications in many major cities around the globe so it's quite possible this cost us coverage in some of these publications as well.

The lesson we learnt is that you need a process for responding to media requests quickly. We've done this in a number of ways:

1. Shortly after our MX experience we set up a media page on our website with some basic information for journalists and more importantly photos they can use. We also now have a large number of retouched photos of our shoes in our shoe gallery that can be downloaded in large files so journalists have access to any shoe photos they might need.

2. We treat any media request with the highest priority. In addition to having a good story to tell, we want that story to be the easiest story for the media to tell to help ensure it makes it to press. If a journalist calls and leaves a message we call them straight back. If they email us we respond and answer their questions as quickly as possible.

3. Be open and honest with the media. If we trust the journalist we'll often share key information like our sales data 'off the record'. It helps the journalist put their story together if they understand some of the wider context of our business even if they're not going to cover it in their story. And if you make it easier for the journalist it's easier for them to write about you.

Being slow to respond to media requests could result in the journalists choosing an easier story to write about or missing their deadline so it's important to react and respond quickly.

In the final post in this series we'll discuss proactively getting your message out to the media.


  1. Trusting journalists to publish the right things about your organisation is a big mistake. Sharing information "off the record" is not "off the record" as far as the journalist is concerned. If you casually mention that some customers use your website to generate their own designer knock-offs, for less than half the price of the original, then guess what the journo will publish? Points of interest for the story will come from these casual "off the record" conversations, and may not necessarily portray your business in the best possible light. My recommendation is to tightly manage the content that is shared with the media. Once something compromising has been published, your only option to fix it is "damage control" which is a lot more time consuming, costly, and less effective than if the content had been controlled properly in the first place. It's too late once the horse has bolted.

  2. Great advice. As a journalist, the decision on which stories you write (apart from the merits of the story itself) is based on the available materials at the time. This makes all the difference.

    Also I applaud the intention to be honest and open.

    Relationships with journalists should be treated like any other business relationship.

    How would you feel if a potential business partner withheld information? You definitely wouldn't trust them and might not do business with them.

    If you simply want to "use" the media to push out a message and no trust, you only have yourself to blame if things don't go as you expect.

    Journalists, like anyone else, have a job to do. Work with journalists you trust. Focus on mutually beneficial outcomes and a win-win scenario.