Tips from Liz Lumley: How startups should speak to the press

By Liz Lumley 

I wanted to share with you some of my sage advice on how startups should deal with journalists. What ‘dealing with the press’ is really like.

I have written for a number of publications over the past 23 years. (Yes, I was FinTech before FinTech was cool – When it was called ‘Financial Information Technology’.)

Things to remember – about Journalists and the Press

  • They do not work for you
  • They are not your PR or marketing department
  • They do not care about your startup as much as you do
  • They answer to a different set of masters – namely their publishers and their audience
  • They do not need permission to write about you. <==If you say anything on a public stage at a public event your words are on the record and fair game. You mention a bank partnership at Finovate, realise that will be published in a newspaper. Do not get mad that the reporter didn’t ask if they could publish the name of the bank. You said it out loud – you put it on a slide deck – end of.

There is something you need to realise. The story is the user – the story is who is using the tech. In FinTech – that is either a consumer or a bank.

Things that pissed me off as a journalist (and guess what – they piss off other journos as well)

  • Don’t patronise – such as asking: “Do you know what an API is?” K
  • Don’t send a press release and then six seconds later call up to ask if I received it.
  • Don’t ask if a journalist would like to come in ‘for a chat’. A journalist’s time is precious. If you have news – great. If not, it is a waste of their time.
  • Don’t tell them what is news. The publication decides what is news. If you don’t agree. Either agree to disagree – or find out what type of stories do make the front page. (That said, don’t ask: What’s news? Read the paper to find out.)
  • Don’t get mad when a journalist doesn’t agree with you about ‘what is news’.
  • Don’t suggest questions to ask.
  • Embargoes are for public-traded companies. Most startups looking for angel funding haven’t had an IPO. Embargoes are not for favouring certain publications. Once it is published, anywhere, it is public information.

Things that made me happy as a journalist*

*Besides, you know, getting my story on the cover of a magazine or as the lead news story of the day (or when a Reddit reader crowdsourced a T-Shirt based on one of my interviews. Yes, it happened**)

  • Having relationships with people – This is where Twitter made a huge impact on my career
  • When people realise that journalists trade on information – give us something and we will return the favour.
  • “We are less likely to sniff at a bad pitch – if we have a relationship with you already.”
  • Learning new things and meeting with fun people.

Basically – my point is this. Journalists are people. People do their best work within relationships. Start from that viewpoint and all should be well.