Thursday, August 30, 2007

When Journalists Speak, Startups Should Listen

There really does seem to be a trend for startups to make it nearly impossible to find out their location or the contact info for any real, live human who works there. I get the whole issue that some startups may be in stealth mode, or that perhaps they're virtual and don't have a physical office. That's cool - but would it hurt to make it one person's job to sort inbound calls? (You can screen 'em via voicemail if you must.)

Scott Kirsner gives advice to Web 2.0 startups (often guilty of these under-the-radar practices). He notes the tradeoff is a chilling effect on the enthusiasm of reporters who might want to write about the company.

Unfortunately, you’re also making it harder for journalists to get in touch when they’re working on stories. I almost never send e-mail to pr@company.com addresses, or fill out contact forms – usually because you never get a response, or if you do, it comes three days later, when a story has already been wrapped and published. Instead, if a company doesn’t offer a phone number and I really want to talk with them, I search Google for a few minutes to see if I can get their phone number, call 411 if I happen to know where they’re based – and then usually give up after about four or five minutes of trying. I just move on to another prospective interviewee.

Earlier this year, I got an email out of the blue from a USA Today reporter looking for the contact info for a company (not a client I hasten to add) that was featured in the MIT Enterprise Forum's Brave New Web conference. (He had plucked my name off the MITEF release.) Luckily, I had some liaison emails and called our contact there and then relayed the info in a timely fashion. But I couldn't help but think how frustrated said reporter must have been that he couldn't find any contact info for this young company on its own site.

Try Scott's suggested experiment. Put a press contact on your site for a time and see how it goes.

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