Adam Lashinsky is a reporter for Fortune magazine. He has the high-tech beat in Silicon Valley. As such, he works with some of the best known (as well as the most full-of-shitake) companies and PR firms in the world. His perspective on working with the press is valuable for every marketing person. You can read one of his latest articles covering the Demo conference.
Q. How do you pick what to cover?
A. I have two basic kinds of assignments: What I want to cover and what they want me to cover–“they” being my editors. I follow what’s going on in the tech world, think about what interests me, and follow my nose. Then, of course, when New York wants something, I hop to it. What I really like is variety. I also like to connect the dots. My Murdoch story last year led to my Facebook story which led to my Craigslist story. That was fun continuity.
Q. When does it make sense for a company–if ever–to hold a press conference?
A. It makes sense for a significant product launch, some major embarrassing news, or the introduction of a new CEO. If it’s important to show something or someone, a group grope helps. Otherwise, don’t bother because most journalists don’t like showing up for press conferences that are just staged events with no real news.
Q. How many companies or their PR firms pitch you per day?
A. Two or three.
Q. What’s the most common mistake that companies and their PR firms make when they pitch you?
A. The most common mistake is not having a knowledge of Fortune. You’ve got to know what I’m interested in and cold calling to ask me isn’t the way to find out. You would think that these companies and PR frimes would at least read my last few articles. Is that too much to ask?
Q. By contrast, how would you describe the perfect pitch?
A. The perfect pitch would involve a major corporation with a great, tension-filled story with the offer of an exclusive opportunity to interview all the relevant people at the corporation. Short of this, a pitch that would work would involve high-level access and a story line that is relevant to my readers, not just the PR firm’s client.
Q. Does schwag and suckups (cookies, tshirts, flowers, invites to swanky parties) matter at all to you?
A. I throw nearly everything away. If I’m not being good about my diet, I sometimes eat the food, and I often take home the t-shirts for running or rags. That’s about it. I go to parties based more on who’ll be there than the quality of the venue.
Q. What is the dumbest thing a company or its PR firm has ever done to get your attention?
A. Outcast PR on behalf of Salesforce.com stands out for sending every imaginable piece of crap under the stars. It’s become a joke in the journalism world. You can walk around the offices of Fortune and see footballs and other paraphernalia, and you say, “Yeah, I got that too.”
Q. Has the growth of online readership made you change your reporting style?
A. No, not really. It has changed the notion of instant gratification. I know that companies will see what I write almost as soon as I write it.
Q. If a company receives negative press, what should it do?
A. Stay focused, be a good company, and don’t stop talking to the press. Bad press doesn’t make for bad products. It’s the other way around.
Q. How would you rank the PR expertise (from best to worst) of the following organizations: Apple, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Bush Administration, and the PLO?
A. I’m not going to touch that one. I have to work with these people all the time–well, except the Bush Administration and the PLO. Sometimes people tell me things that are not for publication. Well, it’s same thing here: I’d be happy to share this with you but not your readers!