Congratulations, startup founder, you’ve managed to schedule a coffee date or a phone call with a journalist who works for a prestigious publication. So what now? How do you gear up for the interview? How do you make sure that you get the most out of this fleeting opportunity? Here are eight tips from a journalist who does interviews with startups on a daily basis on what to do and what not to do when talking to the press.
Forget your usual sales pitch.
Trying to sell your product is not going to do you any good. Journalists are not investors or clients. We don’t want to hear how awesome your product is. It’s very likely that we’ve done our own research, and we know perfectly well what it does and who it’s for. If not, we’ll ask you to explain. Only then should you start going into details about it. So what should you talk about? That’s our next tip.
Tell a story.
PR is not advertising. Articles written about your company or product are not ads. Remember, journalists do hundreds of interviews and they’re always looking for something unique to latch onto. Find that one intriguing thing about you or your startup and tell it as a story. Does your passion for your project stem from disappointing experiences in the past? Do you come from a completely different background, have you made a sharp career change? Don’t be afraid of getting ‘real’ or personal. The point is to get your name out there: if readers find your story interesting, they’ll look you up.
Be the face of your company.
This tip directly relates to the previous one. Even though it may be obvious, some founders are almost scared to represent their own startup. Just own it! You believe in your project, you’ve worked hard for it, and in your mind, you fully identify with it. Let it show! The company’s life is your life. If someone’s interested in your company, they’re interested in you. Don’t be shy, feel free to talk about yourself as a person, not just as a CEO. This way, you’ll be much more relatable and you’ll transmit your passion to the journalist, and through him or her, the readers.
Listen to the journalist’s questions and try to answer them.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but trust me, it happens all the time. We often find ourselves in a situation where all the founder wants to do is deliver a speech that they’ve prepared in advance and completely ignores our questions. We will try to take back control, and they’ll just keep on insisting, causing a great deal of tension. This is not a good strategy, because it damages the quality of the conversation, and the article that it gets turned into won’t carry much value. If you’re not at least trying to answer our questions, we just won’t care. We won’t feel like the article is ours (even if it’s about you) and that’s not good for our ego. Sorry, you’ve got to respect the journalist’s ego!
Don’t be in a rush, but respect the journalist’s time.
Kicking a reporter out of your office with the excuse that you have something else to do is probably the rudest thing that you can do, and you’ll see its effects in their tone when the article is published. However, you should be aware that most journalists are really busy, just like yourself, and wasting their time won’t earn you any good points. Try to find a good balance, or let us determine how much time we need to spend with you to get everything we need. An interview can take from twenty minutes up to an hour and a half, depending on the subject, the number of interviewees, whether you’re going to show us around your office, etc.
Expect to have your picture taken.
Seriously, don’t be surprised when a reporter shows up with a professional camera and a few extra lenses. Have you ever read a proper article, online or offline, that did not include any sort of imagery? Visual content is more important today than it has ever been, and readers like to put a face to the person whose thoughts they’re reading. It helps in establishing a more personal relationship with your potential customers, and it inspires trust. So wash your hair, don’t forget to shave and put on a shirt that you wouldn’t mind being caught dead in.
Don’t start by asking to review the article before it gets published, or requesting that the journalist put a link to your website in there.
If it’s really important for you to ask for a chance to review, do it after the conversation, and don’t take too long when you receive the write-up. Some journalists will automatically send it to you anyway before the article is published, because that’s how badly we want to avoid misunderstandings. About the links: if we have any control over that stuff, we will do it anyway without you asking. If we don’t, because our boss or publisher doesn’t like to give out free links, there’s nothing we can do.
Try to build a relationship. Don’t make it just a one-time ‘fling’.
If you’re running a startup, you may have reason to want to talk to a journalist more than once. You want to keep the public constantly aware of your presence, so it might be a good idea to reach out to us now and again. We usually don’t care about prizes, investment rounds or new product features, but if you have an interesting take on a trending topic, something that’s going on in the world, or you just want to share another aspect of your story, we’d be happy to listen. So don’t chew us up and spit us out: let’s be friends and see how we can help each other in the long run.
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