In an industry that is very Pr-driven, it can be tricky for the average journalist to get something original and clear from a sales perspective.
Having spent more than five years as a journalist covering the sector, I’ve seen a fair amount of Pr spin, non-exclusives and had briefings where something was dangled in front of me as an announcement, but turned into nothing.
Firstly, let’s understand the audience. Firstly it is broad: from the target “end user” who is an IT Manager, CISO or at a similar level, to the systems administrator and architect, to independent researcher and consultant down to man on the street, we are writing for a large audience. Also consider that vendors, Prs, students and analysts are picking things up, it pays to have a broad sense of perspective when you are writing for the information security sector.
Therefore if you want to get into the security press, don’t over-complicate things. If you or your client has a round the back way of explaining that to our reader and with a combination of techy and non-techy types, it has to make sense.
The next stage is to find the balance between over-complicating something and a basic explanation. If it is too much of the former, we’ll get lost and potentially get the story wrong leading to Prs making that difficult call. If it is too basic, is the journalist going to dismiss it altogether? The better balance is to find something in the middle and let the journalist ask the questions that they need to ask for their audience.
On to other areas, one of the big gripes is mass emailers to a wide audience. Yes they may make life easier for a PR than crafting an individual email to every journalist on your contact list, but what journalists want is something original and unique. We don’t want to write the same story as all of our competitors and we should be looking for a new angle, or even a different story altogether.
If you find that there is demand for a comment, offering a new perspective is the way forward as nothing gets hits like a new perspective rubbishing another view or report.
While we are on exclusives, while we are all looking for them, sometimes they are hidden and we will want to dig into a conversation or report a little further. Also discourage clients from telling the same “original” story over and over. Yes we may ask the same questions in different interviews and an interviewee may give different answers, but it’s up to us to interpret it as we choose.
I can recall two instances where I was given details of a story based on an interview, and then having written my story, read exactly the same thing in other places. Sometimes an interviewee who cannot stop talking is a good thing, but sometimes we will want to redirect the chat elsewhere.
One of the main bug bears between Prs and journalists is the call of “can I send you a press release?” (what would happen if I said no?) or the classic “did you get my press release?”. We know you hate doing it, we hate you doing it – hopefully as an industry we can find a better way of overcoming this. Read receipts perhaps?
As I said at the start, information security is very PR-driven and to be a journalist requires decent time management (I’d estimate that I’d spend the same amount of time writing up an interview as I do in one, if not longer), a keen eye on what is original and worth using, great connections and contacts and an ability to cut through the crap in an effective manner. It’s not a design for life, but it’s worth knowing.
Finally if something is embargoed and a journalist doesn’t respect it, are you really going to give them first dibs on a decent story next time? Don’t make embargoes too long or unnecessary, if it can go out now. You may be back in the realm of exclusivity.
– Dan Raywood, former edtior SC, current editor www.itsecurityguru.org