Infosecurity is just a few days away and, as is traditional, at Eskenzi we’ve been ‘persuading’ journalists to meet with our IT experts. With that in mind, we thought it a good idea to draw up the rules of engagement to make sure you leave the right impression.
Here are our ‘top ten’ tips when getting ready to brief a journalist:
Rule 1: Decide what YOU want from the press briefing
There will be those that think briefing the press is purely about getting your words printed. While column inches are important, not every briefing will – nor should it, lead to immediate coverage. Infosecurity, and shows like it, are the perfect environment to meet with journalists and establish your position as a thought leader – so it that’s what you want from the briefing, make sure that’s what the journalist takes away from the discussion.
Rule 2: Read the briefing pack
If you’re meeting a journalist, and your agency has done its job well, you should have a lovely thick briefing document full of critical clues about the personalities you will meet. Take the time to digest this information and plan what you will tell the people you’re meeting. Knowing a bit about the journalist, and the readership they’re writing for, can save a lot of embarrassment when you’re sitting in front of them.
Rule 3: Don’t speak in tongues
While you might know what an AV is, how DDoS attacks work, what makes a succinct ACL, or even what IDS can tell you – the person across the table may not. Establish right at the start the level of understanding the journalist possesses and then use the appropriate language.
While on this point – avoid ‘buzzwords’. Everyone claims to have revolutionised something and levelled the playing field. Unless you’re planning a game of ‘cliché bingo’, let’s not talk about game changers.
Rule 4: Tailor your pitch
Remember to consider the audience the journalist is writing for and tell him things that will interest his readers. There’s no point telling The Telegraph why CISOs need to take a layered approach to enterprise security. Similarly, The Register isn’t going to thank you for filling him in on the features of an app that will track best before dates of food in a fridge and simplify the working person’s life.
Rule 5: Prepare your points
This leads me to the next point – decide what the key take-aways from each briefing are and make sure you get these across. Typically exhibitions are busy for all concerned, with each briefing only likely to last 30 minutes. Be realistic about what you can adequately cover in this timeframe. For example, rather than try and tell the journalist about 60 different threat variants in detail, explore ‘themes’ and determine which are of interest, with a view to arranging follow up interviews after the show.
Before we move on – and especially if you have any first briefings with a particular journalist, be prepared to open with a bit about your company and what it does. If you’ve never quite mastered your ‘elevator pitch’, now is the time. A 20 minute introduction isn’t going to leave a lot of time for anything else.
Rule 6: Ask what the journalist wants/needs from the briefing
This isn’t a one sided relationship as you both need to get something from the discussion. The journalist obviously has heard something about you that’s piqued their interest, so ask what it is and then make sure you cover it. It’s also good to end, or even start, the conversation by asking the journalist what stories they’re working on to see if any fit your area of expertise.
Rule 7: Don’t say anything you’re not prepared to read
While you can say something is ‘off the record’, you’re really leaving it to trust by divulging juicy gossip. And though I’d never say it to their face, there’s more than one journalist I wouldn’t trust alone with my grandma. If you don’t want to tell a journalist something, then don’t. If they try to draw you further on a subject that you’re uncomfortable with, politely decline. There’s no law that says you have to answer their questions.
Similarly, and even though it’s obvious I’m still going to say it, don’t say anything that could be considered defamatory about another person or organisation – unless you can 100% prove the statement. After all, no-one want’s an expensive lawsuit.
Rule 8: If you don’t know about it, then don’t talk about it
If you’re asked a question and you either don’t understand, or it’s a subject that you have little to no experience of, then say so. Like in every day life, there’s more respect for someone’s honesty about their limitations than obvious blustering and the horrendous smell of BS.
Rule 9: Don’t Rant
There are a few journalists who court controversy and use an aggressive approach – don’t lose your cool. If it’s going really badly, end the conversation and walk away making sure you take your dignity with you.
While on this subject, every PR person I know has at least one experience of a hijacked briefing that’s been used as an opportunity to tell a journalist ‘what they think of them’. I strongly advise anyone and everyone against this approach. Not only can it ruin the agency’s relationship with the journalist, which they won’t thank you for, but it’s unlikely to be a successful tactic to building a strong working partnership in the future! If you don’t like them – don’t brief them.
Rule 10: Relax and have fun
Life’s too short – so enjoy the conversations but don’t get too stressed if it doesn’t quite go to plan. Tomorrow’s another day, next year’s another show, and guaranteed at some point in the future there’ll be the chance for another briefing.
Happy Infosec everyone.
– Dulcie McLerie –