“You know, we have other interests. We don’t all go home and talk to our families about cloud storage all weekend — well, not all of us anyway.”
Bryan Glick, Editor-in-Chief, Computer Weekly
In this latest episode of “The Story is Always There,” Computer Weekly’s editor-in-chief Bryan Glick drops some gems, including — wait for it —journalists are human too!
The Hoffman Agency’s Senior Account Executive Patrizia Heun and UK Director Chris Owen sit down with Glick to discuss the art of building relationships with journalists, the do’s and don’ts and best practices of pitching journalists.
They discuss what it’s like to work at one of the most established and respected tech publications in the UK, as they tackle questions we’ve always wanted to know the answers to — including, do journalists have a PR Blacklist? And what’s the most important part of an email that you send to an editor? Spoiler alert: It’s not necessarily the subject line.
Below you’ll find a transcript of the informative and entertaining interview, along with a link to the original podcast.
Patrizia: Hi, Bryan. Thanks for coming in. Why don’t you introduce yourself?
Bryan: Thanks guys. Hello! I’m Bryan Glick. I’m the editor in chief of Computer Weekly, and I also run a European editorial for our publishing company TechTarget.
Patrizia: For someone who’s maybe new to PR, what is like a normal day for you? I mean, do you just get up and then sit down and write because you already know what you’re writing about?
Bryan: Good question. I think if you talked to most journalists, at risk of it sounding too cliché, you’ll find that every day is different. It’s a mix of things. You know, our job is very much about spinning lots of plates. So for anyone on my team, typically they’ll be keeping an eye on what’s happening in the world, looking for big announcements, tech stories, and keeping an eye on newswires and social media to be keeping up on new stories that we’re looking for.
We’ll be going out to meetings, going to briefings, events, conferences, and meeting with contacts. At the same time, I’m probably working on a lot of longer form stuff as well — features or news analyses, that sort of thing. You’re always juggling a number of different articles at any one time.
And you’re doing a lot of research and reporting at any one time. Ultimately, the job of a journalist is predominantly meeting people, talking to people, finding out what’s going on in the world, and then writing about it — which sounds easy, but you also have the added pressure of course, of having to keep that constant flow going.
A day in the life of a journalist:
. — Keeping an eye on global events
. — Looking for big announcements and major news stories
. — Checking newswires and social media
. — Attending editorial meetings
. — Participating in press briefings, events and conferences
. — Juggling a number of articles at the same time
. — Working on both short and longer form articles
And from my perspective as the editor, a lot of what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis is just managing the team, making sure that flow of content is coming through, looking at traffic, making sure we’ve got the right sort of mix of content, and making sure we’re not missing anything that we should be doing. Then, when you’ve got a decent sized team, like I’m lucky enough to have, I’m just trying to keep up with what everybody’s doing and being aware of where everybody is on any one day.
Patrizia: A lot of the input probably comes from PR people like my colleague Chris, who has worked in PR for …
Chris: … 400 years [everyone laughs]. I guess one of the things that has changed since I started probably 14 years ago is that Computer Weekly was print. It had a print deadline, and there was probably kind of more time to do things — to point out the obvious. How has that shifted in terms of your daily flow? How has that affected how PRs, both in-house and on the agency side, should deal with you and your team? And what do they need to bear in mind?
“if a pitch comes in that is clearly written with our reader in mind, and written with the service that we provide to those readers in mind, we’re always going to respond to it.“
Bryan: You know, it’s a very different game now from when I started doing this, which was 20 years ago now, when I was working for a weekly print magazine. Back then, in a typical week, you might end up writing maybe three or four stories for the magazine, maybe one longer form piece, that sort of thing. And that felt like a hell of a lot at the time! Some journalists might write that much in a day now. There’s a whole different set of pressures on the journalists when you’re fully digital because, you know, there is no such thing as a deadline.
We do get called a lot by PR to say, “When’s your deadline for this? When’s your deadline for that?” We say, “Well, you know, my deadline is now”. The concept of the deadline was very much an artificial thing that was determined by the availability of a printing press. You had to get certain pages to print by a certain time. Therefore, you had a deadline by which you have to have something written by. Online, you don’t have that sort of restriction, which in some respects is good because it takes away a little bit of that pressure. But at the same time, it’s cause for extra concern because, you know, you’re aware that stories are being published all the time. You’ve got to be seen to be keeping up, especially for a publication like Computer Weekly. The pressures on the journalists now are very different from what they used to be.
How has journalism changed in the Digital Age?
. — Working for print, tech journalists would typically write 3-4 stories a week
. — Working for online, it is now up to 3-4 stories a day
. — Online has done away with the print deadline to work towards to
. — In the Digital Age the news beat rate has increased tremendously
. — Stories are now published all the time, journalists have to keep up with that news cycle
Patrizia: For you personally, would you say you have a preference? Was it better as a journalist working for print or now in the Digital Age?
Bryan: Overall, I think it’s better now. Although I do think it varies perhaps from place to place, depending upon what your particular priorities are and what your business model is as a publication.
Business models 20 years ago in the print age were much simpler. You had a page that you put some words on, a page that you put some advertising on, and that was all nice and easy for everybody to conceptualize. In the Digital Age it’s a lot more complex than that. There are certainly things I miss about the print journalism days – in particular, having worked on news-based magazines, there was always competition about getting the front page lead every week. As a reporter, that was always great fun. You always wanted to be the one who got the big story, who got the lead.
It’s very difficult to replicate that in an online world where you’re publishing constantly. Obviously, you’re still trying to get great stories and get great exclusives and all that sort of thing. But in the Print Age, you’d always build up to this peak of print day and deciding what was going to be on the front page. And if you were the person whose story got chosen for the front page you got a little bit of a fist bump.
Chris: I remember it from the PR side, actually – I think I was an account executive at the time. This chap called James, he was my account manager. I remember it really well. He got a company called Grid Start, who were into grid computing, on the front page of the print issue of Computer Weekly. And I mean, I’d only been in the job about six months, and they were absolutely losing their shit. I think it was the first time that they’d ever got the front page of Computer Weekly and he was like a deity – you know, it was this kind of hallowed ground that no one had quite trod before. So yeah, it worked on our side as well.
Bryan: Yeah, there are definitely some things from those days that have changed. In the print days we had a fax machine sitting in one corner of the newsroom, and we’d constantly have press releases coming out of it.
Literally the press release would just come out and fall into a big cardboard box. And then probably about once a week, maybe once every couple of weeks, our editorial assistant – in the days when people still had editorial assistants – would generally go up. He’d pick the box up, he’d take it down to the shredders and then bring it back empty for the next lot of press releases. These days, we don’t need editorial assistants or cardboard boxes. We just have the delete button.
Chris: It’s good to see that the behavior hasn’t changed. You’ve got a kind of digital version of that.
“It will probably not surprise you in the slightest to learn that 99.9% of PR pitches we receive do just get deleted because they’re rubbish, frankly, where there’s no interest for us and no interest for our audience.“
Patrizia: Emails are probably worse.
Bryan: Yeah, you know, on an average day, I’ll often get 200 plus press releases and emails a day. Across all of my teams, we’ll get, I don’t know how many, three, four hundred perhaps, coming across the whole of the team. There’s a huge amount of noise.
It will probably not surprise you in the slightest to learn that 99.9% of PR pitches we receive do just get deleted because they’re rubbish, frankly, where there’s no interest for us and no interest for our audience. For example, a company you’ve never heard of has opened a new office in Peterborough or, “Our vice president of internet technology and data protection is over from the States this week. Would you like to meet them?” and that sort of thing.
Chris: You know, you learn that getting on the plane is not a news story very early on.
Bryan: [laughs] We had one that recently said, “Oh, we are proud to announce that we are a sponsor of this conference coming up next month.” It’s like, Oh my God. People have actually spent part of their lives writing this thing and probably gone through ten different rounds of approvals before it’s been sent out.
Chris: It’s a constant frustration, I think mainly because – and it’s not meant as a “we know best,” – but the frustration I think is that conversation about “Stop sending me crap press releases” has been going for probably, ten or twelve years… ever since I can remember. And I think it’s even worse with email. And there does seem to still be far too much of a scattergun approach. And you know, you’ll still see quite regularly on social media journalists saying seriously, just leave it alone. Stop doing it. And PR is going, “Well, we’re just doing our jobs.”
I mean, arguably you’re not, because this behavior hasn’t changed for eight or ten years. And it’s what kind of still causes that schism, the them and us mentality. I think sometimes it’s slightly self-defeating behavior and it is frustrating. I guess part of that as well is on our side, we’re managing client’s expectations – because to them, you know, everything they do is amazing. And you’ve got product management saying, “I’ve created something incredible.” But I would say have them blog about it and people will read it organically as opposed to sending a 201st email to Bryan’s inbox.
What advice would you give to a PR to stand out, amid all that noise?
“the single most important part of any email is the “from” field – it’s who it comes from. It’s whether you have a relationship with that person, is somebody you trust, somebody that you know has taken the time to understand your publication and the subjects that you as a journalist write about.”
Bryan: I think one thing I would say is, because there is so much noise, it’s not difficult to stand out because something that is good immediately stands out.
The main piece of advice is that if you’re sending information to a journalist is that you actually believe it might be something they’d want to use. Journalists are absolutely 100% motivated by their readers. Because they want to be read. The PR’s job is to understand the readers, to understand the people who are going to write the stories that they read, whatever particular topic or beat that they’re writing about.
And the PR pitches that make it through are the ones that understand who our audience is and understand what service we provide to our audience. So, you know, if a pitch comes in that is clearly written with our reader in mind, and written with the service that we provide to those readers in mind, we’re always going to respond to it.
Patrizia: So basically the subject line is everything then, or how else would you find that one particular email that’s actually good in the inbox?
Bryan: I would say this, the single most important part of any email is the “from” field – it’s who it comes from. It’s whether you have a relationship with that person, is somebody you trust, somebody that you know has taken the time to understand your publication and the subjects that you as a journalist write about.
There are certain PRs that I’ve known for a long time, and I know if they email me with something, there’s a greater than average chance that it’s going to be relevant for us, and I’m going to go read it because I know they’ve taken the time. I’ve worked with them before. I know they understand what we’re looking for. So, you know, again, it’s an old cliché, but those relationships do matter. Journalists and PRs getting to know each other, which again, probably doesn’t seem to happen quite as much these days as perhaps in the print days to a certain extent. Everybody’s very busy. Lots of journalists seem to be tied to their desks.
PR Best Practices for pitching journalists:
1. Know what is newsworthy and what is not, set client expectations
2. Understand the audience journalists write for
3. Take the time to read the publication you pitch
4. Identify the journalist who writes about your client’s topic and follow his/her articles
5. Engage with the journalist providing relevant newsworthy information
Patrizia: I learned the hard way when I started in PR and was like, okay, I have no network at all. So how do I start building it? And I looked to my colleagues and they said, “Well, you just meet them.” But you don’t just meet them, that’s the thing. It’s a lot about Twitter, at least here in the UK, but I know in Germany, Twitter is not that big.
Bryan: Yeah, you know, it’s both good and bad that there are so many different ways to communicate now. It’s harder for all of us to be keeping up with all these social media and emails and phone calls and everything that’s coming in. Again, it’s just adding to the noise.
But equally it is also a way for PRs to get to know journalists better. Because, if there is a journalist who is relevant to your client, you should be following them on Twitter to be able to see what stories they’re writing, what they’re talking about, if they’re going to events, what events they’re going to, that sort of thing. A good journalist will be away from their desk most of the time. This is another reason why we generally tell PRs to email us rather than ring us. The emails will get read, email us.
“Even today, a lot of big IT companies think that PR is about sandblasting the world with press releases about every little thing that they do.”
There is also still a huge amount of completely pointless phone calls that come in as well. The, “Oh, I’ve got a press release. Can I send it to you?” Yes, of course. You can send it to me. “Oh, I’ve just sent you a press release. Did you read it yet?” I don’t bloody know!
[Laughs] Sorry, listeners.
So, you know, it strikes me as a journalist that I don’t have the pressures that you have from your clients telling you “we want this, we want that,” the whole time. But it strikes me that it can’t be that difficult as a PR to just be a bit more focused on quality rather than quantity.
And I think you’re right, Chris, there is an element of educating clients. Even today, a lot of big IT companies think that PR is about sandblasting the world with press releases about every little thing that they do.
Chris: I think that there’s been more acceptance of those kinds of conversations with clients in the past four or five years. And it’s partly fueled by people realizing that the old model of running into a room, jumping on a table and shouting doesn’t really get people’s attention. Well it does, but whether it actually gets listened to is another thing. Educating the client involves telling them that there are more ways to tell a story. Not everything has to be a press release. And I think the more that can be understood client side, the better. If it’s a product announcement, get your product heads on to write about it on their own blogs.
What works beautifully for DeepMind, for example, is they don’t put out loads of press releases. People follow the engineers and their product development teams. There’s what kind of press release should just go out on a wire, what should actually be a sell-in and who does it go through? And you know, core people that you know are going to cover it. Make six, seven really good phone calls rather than forty. Crappy annoying press release emails can get you a bit of a bad reputation as well.
And I think that latter point is something that in my mind kind of needs a bit more emphasis. You know, to your point that one of the most important parts of the email is the “from” field, so as a PR, you should be developing your reputation in that “from” field. Whether that’s through Twitter and understanding what people cover and how and when, and also them as a human. I probably undoubtedly talk to you more about Liverpool football club than about computing. It’s about building a reputation for not being one of those people that just sends endless emails and follows them up with, “did you get my press release?” Again, it’s a cliché, but the annoying thing is, it’s a cliché because it still happens.
Bryan: Journalists are human beings too. [laughs] We like to have friends and be loved, and talk about interesting things. And, you know, we have other interests. We don’t all go home and talk to our families about cloud storage all weekend, you know – well, not all of us anyway.
So there is a lot of noise, but the way to cut through the noise is just to be good – just to understand and relate to them, in the same way as you would get to know somebody you’ve met in a pub or whatever, you know, you’ll find out what they’re like and what their interests are, and then you’ll talk to them about it.
Chris: Yeah. It’s interesting about the pub thing. I’ve used it as a slightly iffy analogy— but if you move to a new town, you don’t just run and sit next to someone random and start shouting about your job, you know, or tell them about where your kid plays football. You sit in the pub, you listen to people, and you get chatting organically. And that’s how you make friends. That’s how you behave socially. It seems quite odd, especially on social media, some people behave differently. They’re almost antisocial on social media and just shout at people.
One question I wanted to ask, although I kind of already know the answer to this: When, if ever, is good to pitch to you on Twitter?
Bryan: I think that probably comes down to the individual. Some people don’t mind it, some people don’t like it at all. Some people see Twitter as something they use for a bit of fun, or for personal use.
There’s been a big uptick lately of pitches on LinkedIn, which personally I don’t like, I don’t feel that’s the right forum. I think Twitter’s fine, if it’s somebody you know, and you’ve got something that they’re going to be interested in, like, “Hey, I’ve got the CIO of XYZ big corporation available to talk if you’re interested.” Then I’d go, yeah, straight away. But what I’d probably actually say is, “Yeah. Straight away. Email me.”
Chris: In terms of events, what’s the best way to approach you and your team about events that our clients might be going to, that you might be going to as well?
Patrizia: Especially when it’s a big event where like 100,000 people will message you and all have the same great idea. Like, “Whoa, we have a booth, we have a product.”
Bryan: Again, to some extent, this answer will be different according to the publication or the journalists that you’re talking to. From our perspective, if we go to a big event, the reason we go is because our readers will be there – IT managers, CEOs, etc. And we’re going there because we want to listen to them giving presentations and get opportunities to talk to them. Generally speaking, if it’s a sort of big generic event, then we don’t generally go there to talk to vendors. We don’t generally go there to talk about press releases…
Obviously, if it’s a big vendor event – if it’s Oracle OpenWorld or Salesforce Dreamforce or something like that, then yes, clearly you’re going there with the expectation of big product announcements and getting to talk to senior executives and that sort of thing. But that I think is probably a slightly different situation from what you’re asking about.
Ultimately, if you’re trying to approach somebody about an event, it’s about what content that journalist wants from that event. Why is that journalist going to that event, what are they most likely to want to be writing about? It’s not simply an opportunity because you’ve got a journalist and a client executive, both in an enormous warehouse in the middle of East London. That does not necessarily create magical content. There still has to be a reason for doing it and an understanding of what that journalist is there for— if it’s a really interesting event, where there’s lots of really good readers speaking, CIOs speaking. That’s all we’re really going to be interested in. And getting a hundred messages saying, “Oh we’ve got a stand, come check it out,” That’s going straight into the cardboard box.
Event PR tips from a tech journalist:
1. Keep in mind we primarily go to events to connect with our readers
2. Speaking to vendors and discussing press releases is not really what we are interested in
3. Pitches just to visit and check out your client’s booth go straight into the bin
4. Differentiate your pitch by offering conversations with your customers (= our readers)
5. Panel discussions with end users speaking, CIOs speaking, that’s what we are interested in
Patrizia: How far in advance do people actually have to pitch you that stuff, if it’s good?
Bryan: Well, the sooner the better, obviously, especially this particular time of year – it’s mid-October now – it’s a pretty mad time of year. There’s lots of events going on in any one week. At the moment, I’ve probably got two or three of my team at events overseas. So we’re a bit short staffed in the office for getting out stuff here. But there’s a lot going on. Anything that’s coming in last minute now, it’s going to be pretty hard to break through, unless it’s something that’s really outstanding.
Notice always helps, as we talked about earlier on, it’s not a question of deadline — it’s more about prioritization. Our biggest challenge every day is just prioritizing what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do.
“from a PR perspective, the more you can understand about the logic behind that prioritization for any individual journalists, the better.”
I could easily double the size of my team tomorrow and we’d still keep them all busy. There’d still be things they can all write about. I’ve got three or four things I could write on a given day. I have to ask which one or two are the ones that I should prioritize and why.
And again, from a PR perspective, the more you can understand about the logic behind that prioritization for any individual journalists, the better. If there are half a dozen big issues that you see a journalist writing about regularly, that’s because they are prioritizing stories that come in relating to that issue. So, if you’ve got a story related to the issue, you’ve got a much better straight pitch in there than if it’s something that they’ve never written about before.
Chris: Okay. So on that front, how does one get involved with the breaking news agenda? And again, slightly leading question, but I remember you gave an anecdote around … what’s the word?
Bryan: The WannaCry NHS ransomware attack, I think it was it 2018. Which obviously was a huge story. It was front page news on BBC news. Not often does a tech story get that level of profile.
But yeah, I think we did go back like a couple of weeks after that and actually did a very rough count of how many pitches we got off the bat. And again, it was in the hundreds coming from people who were just like, “Oh my God, there’s a big technology story we’ve got to get involved.”
And 99% of it was just utterly pointless — quotes and comments lacking in any insight whatsoever. Like, “You know, the NHS is really in trouble here. This is a very bad thing for the NHS. They may have to spend a lot of money here addressing this, and they really must improve their cyber security.”
“It’s casino PR. It’s just, you know, if you throw enough stuff in, you might just get lucky and somebody might be desperate and yours would be the first email they find and they’ll just cut and paste the quote out.“
— Bryan Glick, Computer Weekly’s editor-in-cheif
Chris: It’s a lot of the stuff that we’re kind of joking about in terms of the bad habits, and it comes back to this: Sometimes people need to say, look, you’re one of 400 cars in this parking space. Unless we can say something incredible, let’s not go in with a generic comment, because it just isn’t going to get used.
Bryan: Yeah. It’s casino PR. It’s just, you know, if you throw enough stuff in, you might just get lucky and somebody might be desperate and yours would be the first email they find and they’ll just cut and paste the quote out.
Chris: I quite like that: “Casino PR.” On the reporter side, one of my first directors was an ex-hack. So apart from typing as if it was on an old school typewriter, smashing the crap out of the keyboard, he really encouraged me to get out and meet journalists. I remember saying early on “Charles Arthur’s quite influential,” and kind of getting a glare back, like “do not approach Charles Arthur.” But I started going out with some of the reporters at a similar stage in their career as mine. Is that something you’d encourage? For PRs coming into the industry, how can they become valuable to reporters that are making their own way in their career? Is that still something that’s important?
Because if you can get that relationship where someone who was starting out as a reporter and who will move up, maybe on the feature desk or doing some work on a specific beat – if they know you and have known you for a couple of years, you can help their career as much as they can help yours, as it were. Is that still relevant? And if so, what would be your advice in terms of making sure that you can get that reporter out for a coffee or building relationships face to face?
Patrizia: Without being creepy though.
Chris: Yes, without being creepy.
Bryan: Absolutely. Yes. Any young reporters we get coming in – you know, graduate trainees that we take on – I will always say to them, just get out and meet PRs initially. Know they’re available to meet. Like a bee to a honeypot, they will find you, whether you want them to or not. Just go and meet them, find out what they’ve got to say. Understand a bit about how they work. Don’t expect to get a story out of it. Don’t go into it thinking that you’re going to have to come back and write something. It’s just part of your education in starting to make contacts with people.
Chris: It’s interesting because actually, I think that echoes through on our side – if you go meet a reporter for a coffee, it’s not to pitch a story. It’s not to go in thinking, “I’m going to tell them about this announcement that’s coming through.” It’s like, no, just be yourself. It’s interesting to hear you say that the reporter isn’t expected to come out of that with a story to write. I think PRs need to remember that as well, that they’re going to build a relationship and understand what each other does. You don’t have to come back with any immediate output from that meeting.
Bryan: Yeah. Again, different publications in different sectors work in different ways. I don’t mean this critically of publications in any way, but there are some publications who take in graduates, stick them on a desk and say, “Rewrite five press releases a day”.
I’ve met a lot of young journalists who had been six months or perhaps more into a job and they’d never actually left the office to meet anybody because they’d just been writing stuff. And you know, if that’s the business model of the publication they’re working for, then fine and good luck to them.
At Computer Weekly we’re in a fortunate position. That’s not what we have to do. And I’ve got the luxury of allowing my team to have the time to meet people and to make contacts and to go out and talk to people without any particular intent or to get a story – just to build relationships and understand what’s going on in the world and what’s coming down the line, and that sort of thing.
Clearly, if you’re a new account executive, don’t ring up a hard-bitten old hack who spent 20 years dealing with PRs and say, “Hey, do you want to go for a coffee?” Because you might not get the answer you want.
Chris: Well if you go for the coffee, it might be a painful one.
“The truth is that, for all that journalists go on about PRs and criticize and have a laugh at PRs expense, as I’m sure PRs do to journalists, we all know that PR is playing an important part in what we do.”
It’s an interesting thing though. I remember when I first started, I did some work with, SanDisk kind of on the B2C side, and they desperately wanted to be in T3. They’d never been in the consumer side really. It was when flash memory was still very much a kind of accessory. And so my boss had said, “Go and find a reporter and just become their friend.” And I think it was Will Findlater – he and I met up for a coffee a few times and I gave him some cards to use and review, that kind of thing.
And as I progressed in my career, he progressed to the stage where he was the editor. And so I could just text him and go, can I run something by you? And it’s, cause I’ve known him for six, seven years, you know, and we’d progressed at the same time.
When that happened, my boss said, well no, you want someone who will grow alongside you and you have kind of concurrent careers. And of course, in those early stages you are valuable to each other as you always will be. But yeah, you’re not kind of immediately trying to get coffee with Lionel Barber.
Bryan: Yeah. That’s absolutely right. The truth is that, for all that journalists go on about PRs and criticize and have a laugh at PRs expense, as I’m sure PRs do to journalists, we all know that PR is playing an important part in what we do.
They help facilitate a lot of what we do. And a decent proportion of the stories that we write do originate from stuff that the PRs bring to us. There’s no doubt about it, the output of PR is an essential and important part of what we do.
I think it could be more important and a better part of what we do, if it was more targeted and if PRs had the time to get to know journalists and the time to understand individual publications and the relationship that we have with our readers. I understand that it’s not always possible, you’ve got clients, and you’ve got to find ways to make money as well.
Chris: What would be some of your advice in terms of staying in touch with what kind of longer form pieces are being developed over a few days, or even a couple of weeks or so? What’s the best way for a PR to kind of pop into someone’s inbox and ask – I mean, is it acceptable to ask, “What are you working on at the minute? Anything that you know, that might be of interest?” without sounding like you’re getting in the way? How best would you suggest someone stay in touch to understand what bigger pieces are being written? Maybe around security?
Bryan: Again, it comes back to what I talked about having that relationship and knowing a reporter well enough just to be able to say to them, “Any features you’re working on that we might be able to help with?” Not frequently, but occasionally we still get a random PR that we’ve never heard of ring up and say, “Hi, I’m so and so from such and such PR agency, I want to find out what you will be writing about over the next few weeks and if there’s anything we can help with.”
Chris: “I don’t know, I can’t see into the future.”
Bryan: Yeah, exactly. If you can tell me what’s going to happen in two weeks’ time when nobody else knows, you definitely can really help me.
Chris: So that kind of leads to, how best could we work with you and the team on an exclusive? How attractive are exclusives still? And what’s the best approach to going “You know what, I’ve got to have a decision by three on whether you want to take this, or I’m going to take it elsewhere” without sounding rude? Is there any kind of suggestion on how we would look to pitch the exclusive follow-up, and also manage the time frame for when we need to go to our client and go “Computer Weekly has said no, we’re going to take it somewhere else.”
Bryan: First rule is: All exclusives – Come to Computer Weekly with them. Don’t go to any other publications. Always go to Computer Weekly with possible exclusives. I think that’s important to establish.
Chris: Even like beauty brands?
Bryan: Oh clearly.
“We all respect embargoes, nobody needs to worry about signing NDA’s. It’s a trust-based thing.”
I’m sure there’s somebody on the team who’d be interested in an exclusive preview of the new cream bar or whatever… You know, naturally we’re interested in exclusives. Obviously they have to be genuine exclusives, not just a bit of a lousy and uninteresting story or press release that somebody has said, “Hey, if we call it an exclusive, then maybe a journalist will be interested in it.”
So, you know, it needs to be something that is genuinely news. The rules are the same. It’s pitched it to the right person, understand why they would want to write about it, and understand what that person’s reader will be getting out of it and what its relevance to people is. In that respect, it’s the same as pitching anything else. When it comes to the sensitivities around it, if there’s embargoes and that sort of thing, then fine. We all respect embargoes, nobody needs to worry about signing NDA’s. It’s a trust-based thing. If you come to us with an embargo, and we break that embargo, you’re never going to come to us with it again. We know that. When it comes to the example you used of deadlines, I think that’s perfectly fine. I don’t have a problem, if you’ve got an exclusive that you know is strong and somebody’s going to pick it up, and you come to us with it, I think it’s perfectly fair to say, “I need to know yes or no by such and such time.” As long as it’s reasonable, you know.
Chris: You have 6 minutes.
Bryan: Yeah, “I need a decision by the end of this phone call!” You know, as long as it’s reasonable. Give us a day, to the end of the day or whatever if it’s in the morning, something like that. So we’ve got time to assess it. Generally speaking, if it is a genuine exclusive and we are really interested in it, we will almost certainly say yes, pretty much straight away anyway.
Chris: And in terms of maintaining that exclusive, if it’s news generated, it’s something that others will pick up naturally. But if, if the exclusive involves, say, an exclusive talk with the CIO or the CTO or the customer, that I imagine gives it the longevity that no competitors can necessarily pick up on without just plagiarizing your copy.
Bryan: Yeah. It depends on what you mean by exclusive, if it’s, “Here is a press release releasing at nine o’clock tomorrow morning, we’re going to give you the exclusive by giving it to you at three o’clock this afternoon instead, fine. Great. Thank you. You know, if it’s good enough we welcome the opportunity to be the first one to publish it. But in all honesty, it’s only really journalists who notice that. For readers, if we publish an exclusive one day and then everybody else publishes the next day, readers don’t notice that we published it first.
“That sort of stuff we love – the absolute definition of an exclusive for us is a story that when we publish it, the only way anybody else can write the same story is by quoting our story.”
And especially in a Google-driven world— Google generally doesn’t give any preference because you are the first one to publish the story. So a lot of it is journalistic pride. We want to be seen to be the first to get something out.
However, if it is something which can genuinely only be done once by one publication, like say, a CIO interview or something like that, then yeah, that obviously has more specific value to us. It’s something that you can see has only been done once, that we’ve got and that’s great. That sort of stuff we love – the absolute definition of an exclusive for us is a story that when we publish it, the only way anybody else can write the same story is by quoting our story.
Patrizia: Speaking of exclusives, I just wanted to ask you something about a different kind of exclusive, I don’t know if you can say anything about it … but when I first started, people were talking about the PR Black List. Is that a thing?
Bryan: I would say, certainly with us at least, we don’t have a PR black list. But it is fair to say that there are some individuals or some organizations that will cause a roll of the eyes more often than others if a call comes in from them or an email comes in from them. It’s human nature, isn’t it, that there are some PRs that we get on very well with and have a really good relationship with and who really understand us.
Not mentioning any names, I can think quietly in my head of a few situations where a call or an email comes in, and somebody will put the phone down be like, “Oh, that was so-and-so” and everybody will sigh.
Chris: You mention picking up the phone, and I’m assuming you get people calling different people within your team or pitching to one person and getting a no and then pitching to someone else. That, I assume, without it being a leading question again, is just a no?
Bryan: It’s just silly. We all sit together. We’re all in the office, it’s not as if we’re on opposite sides of London and never talk to each other, we’re in contact with each other all the time. Even when we’re not in the office, we’re in contact with each other all the time. So, yeah, if somebody puts in a pitch that one person says, “No, that’s really not a Computer Weekly story.” And then they pitch it two minutes later to the person sitting next to them, that’s just pointless, isn’t it?
At best, we will laugh about it. At worst, that person’s name will be downgraded to the “non-blacklist” straight afterwards. But equally, if you did your research and you’ve got a story, there shouldn’t be more than one person on the team that you need to pitch it to anyway, because you’ll pitch it to the right person the first time — because it’s relevant to what they’re writing about. And, and if they say yes, great. If they say no, you know it’s not for them.
Chris: What’s your role at the European level? Is there any advice you’d give to PRs in the UK about whether to pitch things to you to see if there’s any market relevance, or do you look at pan-European news? What does your role at that level involve?
Bryan: Most of what I do is strategy. How are we addressing different markets and new markets? How are we conforming overall to the publishing company’s strategy and the business model by which TechTarget makes money? At the same time, working on being able to offer services in different countries. So, you know, we’ve got a French language website, German language website. All those markets have their own ways of working. They’re all subtly different, and the style of stories often are quite different. The type of stories that the readers engage with are different. So a lot of it is about managing the balance between what the business has to do and what we need to do to best engage those local readers.
Quite often we will translate. With the French and German sites in particular, we translate a lot of English content into local language. Equally, the German website will write about the pan European story as, as well as German story. We’ll write about a pan-European story as well as a UK story or a Nordic story or whatever.