By now, we're all familiar with the tale of Anthony Scaramucci. The short-lived White House communications director made a lot of waves during his 10-day tenure, but perhaps his biggest gaffe was his profane interview with The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza that was made public on the magazine's site.
In the interview, Scaramucci blasted his White House compatriots then-Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, using four-letter words. Scaramucci later insisted that "legally, it may have been on the record, but the spirit of it was off and [Lizza] knew that."
Chances are, you won't be in a similar high-stakes situation, but the lesson is the same: Deal with the press and you give up control of the narrative.
With so many new companies out there competing for attention and business, getting your company to rise above the noise is a challenge indeed. For this reason, there can be times when the trade off is worth it, but the downside can also be considerable, so proceed with caution.
Here are 5 lessons I've learned in my capacity as a startup founder over the years about dealing with the press:
1. Establish firm rules for what is on or off the record.
There's no reason to ever go off the record unless you're trying to establish a rapport with the reporter.
If you are, then that's your choice. You will probably be rewarded down the line with a favorable quote in a story at some point. But when going off the record, make it crystal clear to the reporter that what you're saying is not to be used in any way for publication.
That said, be aware that if the reporter is able to confirm what you're saying elsewhere, then it's fair game, though your name should not be attached. If you go "on background," meanwhile, that means that you can negotiate how the reporter might use your comments in a story.
2. Deal with reporters as people.
Most of the reporters I've dealt with in the tech industry and legal tech space have a sense of fair play and won't throw you under the bus for the fun of it.
That said, the article that publishes may be nothing like you envisioned. That might not be the reporter's fault. The editor may have decided to push another angle. Or maybe in the course of reporting, the writer found the story went off in an unforeseen direction.
Don't bother getting mad. The reporter is just doing her job.
3. Prepare what you're going to say so you can be "quotable."
Reporters love sources who come up with good quotes because it makes their jobs easier.
Some people are great at talking extemporaneously and can whip out one great quote after another. The rest of the people out there need a few minutes to gather their thoughts.
The best quotes often use similes or metaphors or express a truth about the matter in blunt terms. The worst quotes are those that sound like they've been devised to be used in a press release.
So if you want to be quoted about your company or your industry, prepare your thoughts, don't be wishy-washy about your convictions and avoid using cliches.
4. Get back to the reporter within the same day.
Reporters on deadline usually call many people because that increases the odds that three to four of them will get back and meet the minimum quota for sources in a story.
That's why if you want to be quoted, get back in touch with the reporter fairly quickly. If you follow up the next day there's a good chance that the reporter has secured what is needed already.
5. Research your reporter.
These days, someone asking for a quote could either be from a known media brand (like a local newspaper) or a blog.
If the latter, then be diligent about checking up on them. Is the content of their blog of a high quality? Does the writer have a background in media? Does he know the subject matter he's writing about well? Does the blogger appear to have any journalistic integrity? If you have any doubts then it's fine to decline the request.
Overall, it's ideal to weigh the pros and cons of any opportunity. If you're just starting out, then pretty much any mention of your company is a positive and you can usually get a good idea of the direction of the story beforehand.
At best, a press mention is free publicity but there's always some risk involved. If you'd rather have total control of your message about your company then you may be well-served buying an ad instead.