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How to squander an enterprise media relations day

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed July 8, 2018
Once or twice a year, enterprise media are gather at your user event, eager to write about truly inspiring stories and unexpected news. What could go wrong? A lot, actually. Here's 13 ways to botch it up, presented as satire with snark on the house.

Folks - I got sidetracked. After I wrote How to screw up a vendor analyst day, media relations peeps asked me for an equivalent.

I was set to do that, but took a detour instead, into "I get to review this before you publish it, right?" A media day botch job we all need to avoid.

It took a full-on piece to cover all the ways to screw up the all-important customer use case. With that notched, we can now proceed to discuss the plethora of other ways an enterprise media day can be squandered.

I'm not a fan of bucketing influencers into different camps. That's particularly true for diginomica; we tend to straddle the media/analyst divide, causing confusion amongst our schedule makers. B2B influencer relations is really a 1:1 game, so when people get grouped into buckets, you're already in trouble. Lines blur.

Some reporters offer as much insight as any analyst. So why exclude them from an analyst briefing? I know - because analysts don't blog, so the analyst day can be a private discussion. But most analysts do blog. You see where this is going...

Analysts dislike NDAs, a topic I had great fun with last time around. Media members detest NDAs, as reporters are typically judged on their short-term output. Pre-keynote embargos are understood - or at least tolerated. Otherwise, the NDA is media kryptonite.

Unlike analyst events, it's rare to have a dedicated media day. Typically, vendors invite media to their annual user conference. That's your big chance to engage - or flop. If a new product leader isn't available to analysts, you can make up for that on a post-event phone call. With most media types, you've lost your chance.

When I go to a mediocre event, an analyst will tell me, "I won't bother to blog about this one." A media type will say, "I guess I'm going to write on this-or-that announcement, but it's a real yawner." I'm not sure which result is worse. Substandard event content leads to underwhelming coverage - with the exception of those intrepid media members that know how to dig beyond the schedule you provide them, befriending customers at bars and buffets.

With that one swing at the plate in mind, here's some tried-and-true ways to mess things up, ripped from the non-headlines. Reminder: this is all in satirical fun.

13 proven ways to squander a media day

1. Make sure there are no power outlets for media in the keynote sessions - Virtually all enterprise scribes rely on their battery-chugging laptops. The press room doesn't need power outlets either come to think of it... Less laptop power -> less stories -> less tweets -> less controversy.

2.Make sure press don't have their own wifi (and don't give them access to the speakers' network either - let them contend with the main wifi as it flails with capacity). If the press can't get online to air their reactions during the keynote, you'll have less to stress about. With less media snark, your own marketing team can dominate the social stream!

3. Don't have a press conference with your CEO and leadership team after the keynote. Make the media do the Woodward and Bernstein thing and find their own sources. (This one is controversial, see my wrap for more).

4. Make sure the keynote runs long. A captive audience is better than roaming inquisitors.

5. Don't give media access to the mobile app. Better to keep them on your schedule then free them up to wander with the app.

6. Never let them into customer feedback sessions. You wouldn't want them to see how your executives openly interact with customers, and offer transparent answers. Keep feeding them machine learning, low code and blockchain demos. With any luck, they won't ask about tech roadmap and pricing.

7. No 1:1 customer interviews - stick with over-moderated panels. Surfacing customer interviews is a boatload of work. Sometimes, customers go off script during 1:1s and discuss real implementation challenges or ways they'd like you as a vendor to improve. A panel moderated by one of your sales or marketing leads works better for everyone. Try to find a moderator who says "that's fantastic" every time a customer answers their questions.

8. On second thought, no customer interviews at all. If a reporter asks to speak with a customer, send them a link to a testimonial video.

9. Ideally, the press room is a noisy, multi-purpose room, preferably with fairly loud music playing. A DJ might be nice. If your founder wants to kick the press out to use the room to meet with friends, why not?.

10. Don't provide a PDF of the keynote slides before or immediately following the keynote. You want the media to be constantly distracted as they take inferior photos of slides they aren't sure they'll get access to later.

11. Make sure your executives and product leads don't respond to critical tweets or get involved in social back and forth with media at the event. Keep your hashtag sentiment happy and on message!

12. Don't invite media to your diversity event, or schedule it at an obscure time, and hope the diversity event sends the proper we-care message, even if no formal commitments or action comes out of it, and no one is there to write about it. As long as feel-good photos are taken...

13. Definitely ask to review all copy prior to publication. You want to approve copy. You absolutely want to review copy. It feels good to review copy.

The wrap

end satire/snark

I've made a point of avoiding the items from the vendor analyst day piece, though most of them apply here too.

The press conference is a controversial one; I have colleagues who believe a press conference is a waste of time due to the randomness and/or self-conscious nature of the questions and the boilerplate answers. So, this thinking goes, it's better to get an executive 1:1 for a more open/relaxed/frank answer.

That's true as far as it goes, but I put more stock in the corporate commitments made in front of an entire media contingent than what's said 1:1. A 1:1 interview is great for context but most companies require a process before public commitments are made. I like to see what is said in front of all. The press conference doesn't take the place of more informal sessions, but it's still an important session that sets the tone of transparency (or not!). Either way, there's no substitute for some type of formal sessions with execs.

Just don't make the tedious mistake of wasting the first chunk of the press conference rehashing the main points (and slides) from the keynote. It should be a Q/A session from the get-go.

Media/analysts are not without fault during events. Perhaps our biggest disservice is to give into cynicism/business-as-usual, file the obligatory piece and book an early flight out. Our job is to push uncomfortable issues and surface terrific/under-reported stories. When we fall short, we deserve our share of satirical mocking as well. Complaining about food, celebrity keynotes (the "Condeleezza Rice"/Tony Robbins factor") and transportation hassles is another classic from the diva media/analyst pass-the-whine playbook.

In my case, I hate the cold cut bag lunch with the soggy, mayo-drenched mystery meat sandwiches, but vendors work hard to get us to these events. Such first-world-problems land in the circular file of nobody cares.

One thing that is under-utilized - and far from trivial - is the pre-event briefing. Or, even better than a briefing, a pre-event dialogue on the main conference themes. That's the type of NDA nobody dislikes, as long as it lifts with the keynote. Not every media member has the time or interest in pre-conference previews, but vendors who put on pre-conference phone sessions get better stories out of me later. With better information, you can really hit the ground running.

Despite my satirical barbs, great events require the problem-solving efforts of all involved: vendors, customers, partners, "influencers." And we all want more great events and less ordinary ones. So let's do better.

Okay, I've now critiqued analyst days, customer approval fails, user events, webinars, customer case studies and keynotes, along with bad PR pitches, good PR pitches gone bad, bad AI press releases, bad blockhain press releases, and bad tech predictions. What's next?

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