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Note to Startups – Work on your Briefings

Ah, the joys of meeting with startups! Don’t misunderstand me – I enjoy talking with the engineers and technical folks at startup companies. But the official press briefing of startup companies are often less than helpful. In fact, a handful of such briefings have become classics among editors for their consistent lack of useful information.

Chris Edwards, well-known UK writer, has a great post about the lack of satisfaction in startups briefings in the latest Publitek Media News. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

… going to startup briefings can be a lot less rewarding than simply surfing the web or turning up to conferences. I’m coming across more situations where the press meeting contains almost no useful information. Yet the CTO is spilling the beans to an audience of engineers in another room.

Press briefings are usually the last thing most startups think about. And it shows.

11 Responses to “Note to Startups – Work on your Briefings”

  1. John Blyler Says:

    I decided not to comment this time around but the other side of the coin is that start-ups need all the publicity they can get, even before they have a product. The staged run-up to such announcements does work very well in terms of getting them sustained coverage, along as it’s handled well. Also, the coverage is a very important part of raising new funds. — anon

  2. New Startup Says:

    I’m a start up but I don’t know what you mean by a briefing.

  3. John Blyler Says:

    Hi Gary. I’m referring to press briefings, i.e., discussion with the technical press. Judging from the “News” section of your business homepage page, I’d say you’ve had press briefings before. Cheers. — John

  4. Gene Bushuyev Says:

    Briefings are very often used to create a noise following the principle: any publicity is a good publicity. Lack of content of such briefings is often the result of the absense of the real product and progress on one hand and non-technical (lets call them sales) people, who know not what they are talking about on the other.

  5. New Startup Says:

    Ah, so a briefing is the same thing as a press release. I have heard before from others that editors have complained about the lack of substance in the press releases they’ve recieved.

  6. John Blyler Says:

    Gary: Are you playing the devil’s advocate? No – Briefings are those events were you meet face to face with an editor to talk about your self/product/technology. At a minimum, briefings serve as an information gather activity. At best (from the perspective of many individuals/companies), briefing may convince the editor to cover the person/product/technology in some kind of content vehicle (print, online, blog, etc).

    Press releases are another matter. They all follow a certain template, which is good because editors can quickly pick out the main features that the PR person is trying to convey. Of course, press releases are not to be taken seriously, at least by those writers who are trying to cover technology in an independent and meaningful way.

  7. John Blyler Says:

    Hi Gene. Couldn’t agree more, i.e., briefings are often used only to keep a company’s name in the press, regardless of whether that company has a real product or technology to offer. Sales folks that lack a technical understanding of the product/technology can often make the briefing worse.

    NEVERTHELESS, briefings can be a very useful way to get the attention of editor(s) or investor(s). The problem is that many start-ups are understandably headed by someone who understands the technology in painful detail, but knows very little about anything else (like actually creating a product, engaging the press or creating useful PR/marketing material). Which is why many of us seasoned editors have such great tales about briefings with startups.

    I really do like to cover startup companies, having worked as an engineer or program manager in several startups myself. I’m sure that Chris Edwards (see my original post) likes to cover startup, too. It’s just the unproductive briefings that I (and Chris) try to avoid.

  8. New Startup Says:

    John,

    Are you playing the devil’s advocate?

    No I’m not. You said that from my website, it looks like I had had press briefings before. What I have on my website is a press release but I have never been in a face to face meeting with the press about my company and/or product. So that is why I erroneously equated briefing to press release.
    As you pointed out in your reponse to Gene, I know the technology “in painful detail” but very little about anything else, like “engaging the press.”
    Thanks for your clarification.

  9. John Blyler Says:

    Hi Gary. Sorry, I glanced at your website and noticed the reference to an EETimes article. Thought that you must have had a press interview, but instead the interview seems to have been with your partner at Semifore.

    I made one of the worst mistakes an editor can do, namely, jumping to a conclusion. Haste makes waste, as they say. Cheers!

  10. Brian Fuller Says:

    John, nice post.
    I wonder whether time, industry maturity and publication shrinkage has changed the dynamics. In other words, have the number of b.s. briefings fallen because it’s harder to get time and attention from editors? In my early days at EET we used to get inundated because there were a bunch of editors and companies tried to play the field to get multiple coverage pieces.

  11. Virtue IMC Says:

    John,

    Part of the problem that start-ups have is that they completely overlook the necessity of a knowledgeable, reputable, well-connected PR practitioner – and the investment in such a person is worth 100 times their salary/fee when it comes to advancing their brand and product/services.

    As a former tech PR practitioner, I have to say that it can be a bit daunting to know what each editor wants to hear – every editor has their own agenda and can be a bit insistent that you, as the one providing the info, know what they want. Many who are not wise to the ways of Public Relations conduct briefings can be cookie cutter clones – with no regard as to what the editor wants or needs from the company. But my job was to make sure that I did the research on each publication and editor, so that each editor receives the briefing that meets their needs and the needs of their readers (their customers – ultimately).

    As to the comment of the “untechnical” people using briefings as a platform – in my position, I made certain that we facilitated access to those that had the knowledge base to address the questions that cold possible spring forth during the discussion process with an editor.

    I won’t take too much umbrage with the press release comment – the releases that I was responsible for were crafted to get as much technical information out to the editors for them to communicate to their readers without spec overload (trust me trying to reign in the engineers can be a merciless job).

    Thank you gentlemen for reinforcing that we PR folks can be useful in business – not just a pain-in-the-rump when product folks want to toot their horns!

    Charity

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