What constitutes news these days?
It's the first week of September and we've all got a natural urge to buy new pencils and books and get started on the new school year. I decided to take a look at what the fourth estate -- which often criticizes PR people for not "getting it" -- considers news for all of us communications people.
A quick scan of today's WSJ and NYT online shows the following highlighted stories/topics in the technology section:
WSJ: HP sues Hurd; Apple, Google TV; Craigslist (re: prostitution ads); LCD panel prices falling, not buoyed by back to school surge; Vodafone/China Mobile split; Toshiba tablet
NYT: Amazon (re: consumer "wrap rage"); Google, Jobs, Vodafone/China Mobile; Tech Sector Slow to Hire; Testing consumer merchandise using ads in virtual worlds; Photo-editing tips; iPad; digital devices
I will admit that my scrutiny of what spells "news" was sparked by the business press's incessant chasing of Hewlett-Packard suing its former CEO Mark Hurd for going to competitor Oracle. Once the news broke that this suit had been filed, a few days after Oracle had announced Hurd's appointment, the scrambling for coverage included scans of the actual legal document that had been filed. It seemed excessive, particularly since it's pretty normal business process to use legal pressure when a top executive moves to a competitor to prevent him or her from stealing employees and, if possible, to get back some of the exit package as part of a negotiated settlement. Of course it makes sense to track the impact on the two large publicly traded companies' stock price and value, but some of the other paparazzi-style coverage has seemed more like Lindsay Lohan gossip mongering than news, in my humble opinion.
With this in mind, I asked our team to share the tenor of what journalists they are talking with are considering newsworthy (or not) these days:
"If it isn't Apple or Google, I'm not interested."
"Consumer gadgets and mobile devices are all I care about right now."
"I'm not covering any enterprise technology companies unless they are over $10B in sales and have a big name brand customer willing to talk about something absolutely new and different they are doing with the technology -- and even then, I have to sell it to my editors."
"Call me when they are ready to tell me when they are going IPO."
"That's great that a big name retailer is willing to talk, but unless they are doing something really game changing with the technology and it's completely revolutionizing the way they do business and other retailers need to follow suit or get left behind, then I really am not interested. My editors won't care and I don't like it when they hate the stories I pitch in our editorial meetings.""I'm only interested if they will give me the warts and all story of private equity funding."
So what's an innovative young private company or a high performing mid-to-large size enterprise technology company to do these days to get attention?
First of all, don't lose heart, but realize the bar is at a crazy level right now for what constitutes news, particularly in the business press. The pressure is on to have a strong story to tell with all the right elements before you waste any time and resources taking it to the media. The higher level the media target, the more pressure there is for a story that is probably relevant to a broad readership. Name brands sell. Big personality executives with big name company track records and relationships are much easier to position with the media than quietly competent executives who have not built a public persona. Colorful, accessible customer stories that will capture readers' imaginations have good potential, but even they are not slam dunks unless they talk about technology that is affecting people's lives in a way that is compelling and easy to understand for all readers.
So sharpen your pencils, layer on the body armor and get the brainstorming going as we enter into a new school year of successful pitching. If it was easy, it wouldn't be as much fun, would it?