Martin Bryant is a breath of tech press fresh air. As Managing Editor for The Next Web (based in the UK), he’s seen his fair share of interesting companies and reported breaking news for hundreds of tech startups across the globe.
Before Onclusive launched our Investor Program a few weeks ago, Hermione Way (who has worked with TNW as video editor for the past several years) suggested I contact Martin to push out the story. Here is what happened:
Step 1: Emailed Martin and referenced Hermione’s suggestion to contact him.
Step 2: Within 2 hours received a very pleasant, British-accented email (in my head) expressing interest and asking for a few more details.
Step 3: After picking myself up off the floor (I had fallen off my chair in shock at both the timeliness and kindness of his email) I gathered the requested details and shot him back an email.
Step 4: He asked if I had a preference date for releasing the story.
Step 5: Cue chair fall. Got back up. Answered: “yes I do and thank you so much for asking.”
Step 6: Then…he ran this story and everyone was happy. The end.
Thank you Martin for being the type of dream journalist every smart PR person who does their homework deserves to encounter…and thank you for sharing some extremely pertinent insights for this interview.
Onclusive hearts you.
PR has been receiving quite a bit of “PR” lately – for better or for worse — why do you think this is becoming a part of the public discourse (at least in tech media)?
Martin Bryant: Part of the reason is that it’s now easier than ever to moan about bad PR, whereas in the past journalists may have just had to make do with discussing it with colleagues in the office. Through Twitter and Facebook they now have a platform to complain about unpleasant PR experiences in real-time. Indeed, some journalists seem to make a hobby of it.
At the same time, social media means that people in PR now have more ways to contact journalists. Horror stories about being emailed, phoned, mentioned on Twitter and sent a message on Facebook – all about the same pitch – are sadly not just stories, even if they are (thankfully) quite rare, at least in my experience.
Another factor is that seemingly more than in other areas of the press, the tech media is particularly good at navel-gazing. We love to complain about perceived poor ethical practices at rival publications, and discuss the minutiae of our own jobs to anyone who will listen. PR is a part of that mix, so it’s no surprise that it gets its own share of discussion on the pages of tech blogs.
How do you manage the barrage of coverage requests? Meaning, how do you filter, manage, make decisions about who to respond to, how to respond, etc?
MB: I used to have a straightforward rule – reply to everything I want to cover AND to anything I don’t, as long as the pitch was presented in a personalized way. While that worked when The Next Web was smaller, as we’ve grown, the amount of time I need to spend on email has rocketed. Now my rule of thumb is to reply to everything I want to cover, plus anything presented in personalized way that almost made the cut, but not quite. A lot of the time, I simply ignore the rest, although these are usually archived with a ‘Tips uncovered / rejected’ Gmail label in case I need them for future reference.
I know a lot of people in my position simply ignore anything they don’t want to cover, but I strongly believe that a decent pitch deserves a decent reply, and I endeavor to send one whenever I’m able. That said, some days that rule goes out the window if I’m particularly snowed under.
For all its flaws, email is a simple, straightforward system, and my inbox is where I like to receive all my pitches. As much as I try to reply to pitches via Facebook or Twitter, they often get missed – especially on Twitter where they may have disappeared down my mentions stream before I get a chance to handle them. Email’s always best!
What makes a PR pro easy/great to work with?
MB: A good PR professional knows their beat just as well as the journalists they work with do. The ones I enjoy working with make the time to build personal working relationships and understand what journalists need. Rather than just take the workmanlike approach of emailing a bunch of contacts with a press release and handling any follow-up questions that arise, they know what makes different journalists tick and approach each one accordingly.
It’s no coincidence that these PR professionals often have the best client lists, so being a great ‘people person’ and good networker really pays off for everyone involved.
What are some examples of companies that have done a great job using PR as a tool for building brand equity, bolstering their profile, and ultimately starting conversations?
MB: Ironically, Apple’s approach of hardly ever responding to PR requests and only building relationships with a small number of journalists has helped the company. It adds to the Apple mystique, as people are left guessing what the wizards in Cupertino are really up to. That certainly does help start conversations, as people are left to mythologize the company in the absence of hard data. Of course, Apple sometimes goes to far with it, and has been accused in the past of occasionally responding too slowly to crises.
I definitely would not recommend this to other companies though – Apple arguably doesn’t need the attention, you probably do.
Ok, you get one PR wish with regard to the PR-Media-Client relationship. What would it be?
MB: My one wish would be an end to the following pitch: “Hi, in the light of [insert recent big news story], my client [insert name of CEO of really tedious company that never has any news worth discussing itself] is available to discuss what this means for the industry as a whole and how his/her product is helping millions of users.”
Honestly, I don’t know of any such pitch that has ever been successful. This is an example of PR people not understanding what journalists, and their audiences, want. The only person who would benefit from such an interview would be the client. Of course, there are exceptions – the client may have groundbreaking opinions on the matter at hand, but they’re generally better suited to a personal or company blog post than an interview. Then, if they really are so great, others will pick up on them and maybe they will become news.
Best “do it yourself” resources or recommendations for companies looking to tackle PR on their own?
MB: If you haven’t yet reached the stage where people are bombarding you with interview requests and invitations to comment on stories that are being written about you without you having to even approach the press first, you should either hire a PR representative with a great reputation for working with small startups, or do it yourself. Don’t compromise and opt for second-rate PR.
In fact, many journalists prefer to hear directly from early-stage startup founders themselves, anyway. Building these direct relationships early on can pay dividends for both sides throughout the company’s life. There are plenty of startups that contacted me before they launched and still stay in touch as they’ve grown. As with a good PR person, it’s a pleasure to see their name in my inbox, as they know the value of a good relationship with journalists. Down the line, as they get bigger, the journalist has a direct line to the heart of the company, while the founder has someone they trust to handle their news fairly, even if that news may sometimes be bad.
When it comes to initiating these relationships, conferences are good places for meeting journalists face-to-face. This is a great opportunity to make a personal connection, even if you’re not quite ready to launch your product. Arrange a meeting in advance though, a tweet on the day of the conference asking for a meeting may not get seen until the event is over. Booking a week or two in advance via email is far more likely to result in success.
Any last tidbits of PR advice?
MB: Be careful with exclusives. One publication may ask you for the exclusive on a big piece of news you’re about to announce. The problem is that your big news then goes to a fraction of the audience it would have done if you would have told more publications, reducing its impact. Journalists love exclusives though, so it doesn’t hurt to slip a juicy morsel to a single publication once in a while. When it comes to big announcements though, the only people benefitting from an exclusive is the publication you give it to – not you or the audience you want to reach.
Follow Martin on Twitter: @MartinSFP
About Martin Bryant
Martin is a technology journalist with a particular interest in European startups, apps and the constant evolution of digital media. He is experienced in sourcing and breaking news, managing staff, and leading panel sessions and speaking at major international conferences. Based in Manchester, UK he co-founded the city’s Social Media Cafe events that helped kickstart a lively cross-discipline digital community in the city. More recently, he co-founded TechHub Manchester, a shared working facility for technology startups, and part of the international TechHub community. Click here to learn more.