Tech businesses and startups in particular have so much of what the media are always looking for. They offer something cutting edge and new (always a good ingredient when it comes to “news”), they usually represent a success story and with phrases such as “Silicon roundabout” entering the public’s lexicon, they’re particularly topical.
However, many reporters find that doing an interview with one of these businesses can be an uphill struggle. Like plenty of other journalists I’ve got hold of a story about an amazing new app, some revolutionary piece of software or a remarkable gadget that could change our lives over the next few years.
The problem is that when we come, full of curiosity and excitement, to talk to the people behind this amazing innovation all too often we find ourselves wishing that we’d never left the office.
Why? Because the interviewee uses impenetrable jargon. I’ve written about technical matters – among other subjects – over the last 20 years but I’m journalist not a programmer. Besides, even if I have an idea of what you’re talking about the chances are that I’m still going to have to translate it into more understandable language for a general or non-technical audience. The problem is that you might not like my translation so it’s much better to do it yourself.
Similarly, very often people running technology companies assume that the journalist knows all about their business. We don’t. We’re jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none. We might have done three or four stories on very different subjects that week. I received a briefing document and Q&A about a business the other day, for instance, which ran to over 20 pages. I’m writing an article not a PhD thesis.
Giving us too much information is as bad as giving us none at all. “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time,” wrote Blaise Pascale, the great sixteenth century scientist. He might never have had to cover a tech company in 200 to 300 words (the typical length of many news articles) but he would certainly sympathise with today’s tech journos.
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As well as being a journalist I also work for a media training company that helps people to do media interviews and so I see this media/tech company interaction – and where it can go wrong – from both sides.
OK, thanks for listening to my whinge. So, what should tech company leaders aim for when they do interviews with journalists in order to make life easier for both parties and to get better coverage?
1. Be clear about what it is that you’re offering that’s new and different from what’s already out there. Focus on the audience too – how will it help them and make their lives easier? Why is it worth investing in?
2. Avoid jargon. I recently interviewed the man behind a tech start up who managed to fit these gems into his first answer: “drive adoption”, “meaningful solutions”, “scalable road mapping” and “empowering future proofing”. I’m still not quite sure what his company did – and so I haven’t been able to write about it. Our most successful and well known business people are the ones who speak in simple, everyday language.
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3. Give us examples, stories and anecdotes. Examples prove your point and illustrate what you’re saying. If your product or service is applicable to the banking sector, for instance, give me a case study – even something anonymous or hypothetical.
Introducing an analogy or comparison is a great way to explain complex concepts. For example, “We’re the ABC of the digital world,” or “It’s a bit like instant messaging, except that XYZ.” Your anecdotes could be as simple as “after we’d presented to her, one investor said to us…”
Above all, “Just imagine,” is a great phrase to use when trying to explain a concept to a journalist. Then paint us a word picture.
4. Don’t be afraid to tell your own personal story and that of the company. Human interest is the biggest cliché in journalism but it’s what every tech and business writer is looking for alongside the science. What was your “Aha” moment when things suddenly fell into place? Similarly, I usually ask about the worst moment too. We want the ups and the downs, the breakthroughs and the breakdowns. Sound like a movie script or a novel? Well, that’s what grips our audiences and that’s why we hacks call what we write “stories.”
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5. Give us some fascinating facts and a few little nuggets of information. Did you know, for instance, that if all the gold in the world was pulled into a wire half a micron thick it could wrap around the world 11.2 million times? Or that the term “surfing” the Internet was coined in 1992 by Jean Armour Polly, a librarian from upstate New York? (Actually, you probably did know that one) OK, did you know that 20 per cent of coffee mugs contain faecal matter? Euw! Sorry but at least you’ll remember that fact rather than something as dull and anodyne as “we put the customer as the centre of everything we do.”
The great thing about these simple but essential tools is that once you start using them you’re in control of the interview rather than the journalist – and we both get a better story.
Tech City News is holding a media training event during London Tech Week. For more info visit the events page