Guidance for PR

[PR: Please read this before pitching or arranging interviews. Key changes in bold underlined italics. Updated Sept 2018]

I’m always happy to hear from public relations professionals and anyone who thinks their client/service/product may be of interest to me. I’m not doing journalism full time at present, though I am doing research for clients I’m consulting for, commentary pieces and for book projects — so I’m always interested in talking to people in the industry on that basis.

What I’m interested in:

  • Telecoms, media or technology: pretty broad, and I’m interested in more or less any kind of innovation.
  • Technology and society: reports, individuals, etc: on how technology improves, or doesn’t improve, society — particularly, but not exclusively, the developing world. Love surveys of how people hold their cellphones or eat celery while typing.
  • Technology and politics: cyberwar, infowar, security issues, hacktivism, that kind of thing.
  • Well thought-through trend pieces: I know you’re doing it to promote your client, no need to hide that. But you might have a good angle, or prompt me to think of one, so I will always take seriously a well-thought through pitch.
  • Relationships: I really want to know how to reach someone in a company or organization when I need them. So I’m usually happy to meet for a coffee with anyone who can help me do that.

What I’m not interested in:

  • new appointments, unless they’re really senior and the company’s really big.
  • too many press releases: keep them limited and keep our interest. If I get more than one a month from the same company I’ll downgrade them so they’ll usually skip my inbox, so it doesn’t help anyone to send out too many.
  • press releases which you can’t help me follow up on. No bigger waste of time than piquing a journalist’s interest and then saying ‘we can’t give you any more information or someone to talk to about this.’ Not least, this means we have no way of actually confirming the press release is authentic.
  • non-disclosure agreements: I will observe embargoes but please do not ask me to sign NDAs unless there is a really good justification.
  • junkets. I am now in a position to accept junkets, but I’m selective. If there’s a quicker and cheaper way to learn the same information I’m up for it. I’m still allergic to group lunches, all-day conferences and other attempts to herd journalists together and curry favour with them. Coffees or informal lunches one on one work.

How to reach me: 

Email is always best (include [pitch] in the subject line to ensure it reaches me). Doesn’t have to be long, but try to take into account what I cover and have already written about.

Some notes on pitches and communication: 

  • Please, no phone calls unless one of us is actually dying.
  • If it’s the first time you’re emailing me, please indicate somewhere near the top that you’ve read this page. That helps.
  • no pitches which restrict what I can and cannot write, because you’ve offered that to another outlet. We decide what the story is, and while I quite understand you may be making similar pitches to others, don’t try to circumscribe what you might share with me because you promised it to someone else. You’re either interested in me being interested in you, or you’re not.
  • If I don’t respond to an email pitch, please don’t keep pestering me. I’ll read everything, but I won’t reply to everything. My recent favourite, a follow-up email prefaced by: “just floating this back up to the top of your inbox.” I know it sounds cute and harmless but imagine if everyone did that.
  • Please don’t blast me with pitches if you don’t actually include Asia in your remit or can’t connect me to someone who does, or can’t pass me onto someone who can actually deal with me. So responses like “it’s not yet available in Singapore” or “sorry, I didn’t realise you’re in Asia. We don’t deal with Asia” aren’t particularly welcome or useful. It’s a global world.

Interview notes: 

  • Face to face is always best, Skype/phone second, email third.
  • One-on-one is better. Not with other journalists. Not with minions or colleagues and others taking lots of notes in exercise books. Not, if possible, with PR.  If this isn’t possible, please let me know beforehand. This applies to phone calls too: I prefer one on one phone calls with no lurkers or helpers or note-takers in the background.
  • No ‘helpful’ interjections. One reason I try to apply the above rule: I really appreciate the help from PR of setting up interviews, rounding up their people is no easy task. But it’s not useful to anyone to then interject during an interview, either over the phone or in person. It wastes time: I can’t quote you (though I will if necessary), the interviewee can’t contradict you, they can’t really repeat what you’ve just said, and the undercurrent of the interview is lost. Journalists may not seem to have a rhyme or pattern to their interview techniques, but actually they do, and by asking your own questions, making your own comments, or suggesting questions or answers you interrupt that. Your role is to place interviewee and interviewer together and ensure they’re as well-briefed as possible before the interview. And then get out of the way. Anything else undermines that.
  • No interviews over expensive lunches: I’m sure I’m alone but I don’t like these. Too much crockery and cutlery, too many people pouring iced water over your notebook, and often too many hangers-on snaffling up the free lunch. Let’s just meet in Starbucks or a local equivalent and get to know each other that way. Save lunches for when we know each other really well and can enjoy them one on one.

Post interview notes:  

  • If I’ve conducted an interview, attended a press conference or borrowed one of your gadgets/apps, please don’t ask me when the article will appear, what other products I’ll be reviewing/companies I’ll be interviewing, or whether you can see the article before it appears. And please don’t try to browbeat me into writing a story after an interview. An interview with your client does not guarantee I’ll write anything. And certainly not according to your schedule. (If I’ve borrowed the gadget, for sure remind me if I have forgotten to send it back.)
  • Please, no follow-up emails to ask how the article is coming along (unless you’ve got something useful to add). Sometimes these things take time, and sometimes editors don’t want the piece after all. If you’ve got your Google Alerts set up, you should know as soon as I do when it comes out. In most cases I’ll add you to my mailing list so you should see the article that way too.