In Defense of the Press Release

Dean Takahashi, lead games writer at VentureBeat and author of Xbox 360 Uncloaked, lamented on Facebook that publicists are sending out less press releases.

I detect a trend where PR firms are no longer bothering to write press releases. That’s hip with the times. But I find they’re writing blog posts instead. Or sending over slide decks. Or arranging Webex briefings. And sending white papers. This is not an improvement because it doesn’t get me the most important information quickly.

In this post, I will discuss how we arrived here, and reason why public relations agencies are wrong to discontinue the production and distribution of press releases.

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The Three Types of Cofounder

There are three types of cofounder:

  1. Legitimate cofounders, who have invested blood, sweat, and tears, and time, treasure, and talent, toward building their companies from day one;
  2. Honorary cofounders, who are granted the title by the legitimate founder or cofounders as part of a strategy to leverage the reputation of a prominent individual to raise capital, secure coverage, or otherwise add strategic value; and
  3. Shameless liars, who are usually early employees but sometimes employees who are quite far from being among the first. They independently lay claim to being cofounders to elevate their status and advance their own interests.

Over the years, I have asked and interviewed some entrepreneurs about the latter.

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Interviewing Entrepreneurs

Most startups, especially small enterprises, are immensely personal endeavors. Entrepreneurs feel the tremendous weight of every decision. While the right moves at the very least bring about one more day in business, a single wrong move can spell disaster for the people involved.

And, yet, startups are treated by outsiders, especially the financial press, politicians, and critics, as paths to equitable returns, engines of innovation, or symbols of corporate greed. When interviewing founders, one should remember what they, as human beings, have sacrificed, or will sacrifice, for not just success but their dreams.

Here are some of the best questions to ask entrepeneurs…

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The State of the Interview

In my last post, I called out Pulitzer Prize winner Alex Haley and his 1966 interview in which he was able to capture the time and place through not only his first questions but his 547-word narrative introduction to “the fanatical führer of the American Nazi Party,” partially quoted below. The final Q&A itself was comprised of 117 questions and weighed in 11,712 words.

Warned about my Negritude, he registered no surprise nor did he smile, speak or offer to shake hands. Instead, after surveying me up and down for a long moment, he motioned me peremptorily to a seat, then sat down himself in a nearby easy chair and watched silently while I set up my tape machine. Rockwell already had one of his own, I noticed, spinning on a nearby table. Then, with the burly guard standing at attention about halfway between us, he took out a pearl-handled revolver, placed it pointedly on the arm of his chair, sat back and spoke for the first time: “I’m ready if you are.” Without any further pleasantries, I turned on my machine.

Nevermind the interview; the introduction alone is longer than many articles today. Wow!

In this post, I discuss the state of the interview, specifically the longform interview, and why I think the conversations we are having with celebrities are getting shorter.

I believe there are three main reasons:

  • there is less space because there is more content overall;
  • there is less money coming into publishers, so there is less money going out to writers; and
  • many publishers and editors thumb their noses at the Q&A.

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