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What Not to Say to a Reporter

Jeff Vance, a freelance tech writer who contributes to publications like CIO Magazine, Network World and Forbes, recently relayed some great tips for how companies (and those in PR) can capture his attention.

So, on the flip side, what kind of story ideas and comments make him leery of a source?

Here are some common statements Jeff says are best to avoid when talking with the media. Keep in mind this is not applicable to all reporters, but is something Jeff takes into consideration when conducting interviews.

“We’re the only vendor doing this. We have no competitors.”

When a vendor says this, my first instinct is to name four or five direct competitors. If I can’t name direct ones, I’ve never failed to deliver indirect ones.

If you have no competitors, you have no proven market. That, or the vendor you represent is full of b.s.

“We have hundreds of customers, but we can’t name any.”

Oh, really? Why should I believe that? Do you really have any actual paying customers? If you really do, this is still a problem, telling me that the sales and marketing team isn’t prioritizing testimonials the way it should.

“We’re a bootstrap organization that refuses to raise VC money. We’re 100% financed by our management team.”

This triggers less of an alarm these days, with the cloud knocking down all sorts of barriers to entry, but it still gets me to raise an eyebrow. A few million bucks of VC funding tells me that someone has vetted you, done the due diligence, and thrown money behind that decision.

Moreover, VCs often force companies into good decisions. Often those VC dollars come with strings, such as not allowing engineers to run marketing departments and not allowing anti-social code monkeys to pose as CEOs. If you haven’t raised money, you’ll have to work harder (such as by divulging the names of top-tier customers) to get me to believe that you’re a real contender.

“The market we address will be $x billion by 2015.”

These enormous market predictions rarely come true. If no one is buying solutions like yours in decent volumes today, don’t try to sell me on junk predictions. Granted, many of these predictions come from analysts, but analysts don’t sell reports for $500K markets, do they?

“One of our advantages is our management team. Our CEO was previously the founder and CEO of a number of successful startups, including Fighting Donkey Security, Bipolar Mountain Monitoring and Two Dogs Humping Software.”

In other words, don’t try to impress me with a string of no-name companies that are theoretically successful. If it’s not a brand name or didn’t result in an impressive acquisition, let it go.

For more tips from Jeff, check out his blog: http://sandstormmedia.com/home/blog/

For the benefit of those getting started in PR, what other topics and/or statements do you think generally make reporters reconsider a source? How might you rephrase some of the above statements to avoid getting into a situation where a reporter questions your expertise?