As Boston continues to be a booming tech and innovation hub, PR pros are facing greater pressure to cut through the noise. To help understand the changing media landscape moving into 2017, InkHouse recently discussed tech media trends with Jeff Engel, senior editor of Xconomy. Below, Jeff explains some of the big pressures he faces today as a tech journalist, noting there’s too much news to cover, not enough time and steep competition from media outlets near and far, old and new.
Q: What do you think makes for the most compelling tech story?
A: It's a combination of timeliness, significance, putting the subject in the proper broader context, and telling the human story behind the tech. The last one is probably the most important -- examples include a relatable/interesting founder's story, or how people developed a cool technology.
Q: What types of stories are you most interested in doing?
A: I like telling stories that speak to the future of technology, but are still early enough that most people aren't aware of it or how it might be used differently. What's the next big thing? What are new ways that technology will transform our lives? Examples:
- Paul English’s Lola Nabs $20M For “Conversational Commerce” Play
- Death in the Digital Age: Tech Startups Help Us Cope With Mortality
- Glimpsing Digital Publishing’s Future at Codex Hackathon at MIT
Q: What was your favorite story of 2016? (That you wrote.)
A: My favorite story I wrote was: MIT Boosts Resources for Entrepreneurs as Startup “Fever” Rages. Bonus story, the one I had the most fun with: Smack Might Be the Future of Social Apps, But I’m Not Cool Enough
Q: Do you find PR people helpful when it comes to story ideas?
A: Rarely, to be brutally honest. But it's usually not the PR person's fault. Your job is to get stories written about your clients or your employer, and a lot of times the material you're working with isn't super interesting to the journalists or our audience. Plus, Xconomy's editors prefer that we come up with story ideas on our own. I've had success coming up with interesting story ideas in collaboration with PR people when both sides are honest with each other about their goals, and both sides work together to find a good fit. And if a good fit can't be found in that instance, that's OK; we can move on and try again another time, with a different angle/idea.
Q: What is one thing that PR people can do to make your job easier?
A: Make sure the pitch fits my beat, and highlight those relevant details prominently (i.e., in subject line and/or first sentence of the email). Since my beat focuses on software companies with headquarters in the Boston area, 1) make sure that the pitch fits that criteria and 2) make sure it's obvious early in your email pitch that the company fits my beat. That'll make it more likely that I'll keep reading. We get so many pitches, anything PR people can do to make it easier for us to figure out whether the pitch fits our focus is super helpful.
Q: What’s your worst PR pet peeve?
A: Don't follow up an email pitch with a phone call. We're all buried in emails, and if we don't respond right away, it's either because we're swamped or we're not interested. I try my best to let people know quickly if the story is not of interest, but sometimes I've got to prioritize responding to other messages first, and things fall through the cracks. If I've worked with you before, I'll almost always respond to you via email, sooner or later. Sometimes it might take a follow-up email to remind me to respond; I don't mind that, as long as you give me at least 24 hours to respond. But please no phone calls, unless it's objectively huge news and it's truly urgent (i.e. in the next several hours your firm is announcing a $10M-plus funding round or an acquisition).
Q: Is there a particular segment of the tech industry that you predict will take off in Boston next year?
A: Cybersecurity -- it's already a big cluster in Boston, and will only grow as nationwide concerns over cybersecurity drive more purchases in the sector.
Q: Are you noticing any local companies tackling the lack of diversity in tech talent issue?
A: EzCater, which signed a White House inclusion pledge and has started publishing an annual report on its staff diversity. A few others are involved in the new Hack.Diversity initiative. See last bullet point in this recent news roundup: Boston Tech Watch: Dyn’s Payday, Self-Driving Car Tests, Akamai HQ