10 Questions With Marie Domingo (S1, Ep2)
This communication professional talks tech, shares advice on how to get your company noticed, connecting with the media, and dealing with competitors.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
Often I receive questions from entrepreneurs wondering what’s the best way to reach journalists, how should they craft their message, and if I can recommend a good public relations firm for them to work with, or someone to bring in-house. While I’m experienced working with those in PR, I thought it would be best that for the next installment of my “10 Questions” series, I’d go right to the source and ask an industry veteran on what startup founders should do.
Meet Marie Domingo, the founder of Domingo Communications. I’ve known her for the better part of a decade, both when I was a blogger and also as a reporter at The Next Web and VentureBeat. She has spent her career working on software and hardware companies, consumer and the enterprise, and is one of the most well-connected individuals I know to the media world.
In this edition of “10 Questions”, we talk about how to craft the right message, the best way to approach the media, creative campaigns, metrics for success, and what to do when your competitor gets mentioned but you don’t.
How did you get into marketing communications and why specifically tech?
Well, I started out with a journalism degree. And then my first job was working for PR Newswire, back in the days when PR was about faxing out press releases to news outlets. That’s also where I learned member services, similar to what is now considered media relations.
So much has changed about what I do. But to this day, I like telling stories. I like to break down complex things and make them relatable to people. That’s a big part of what effective PR is.
The other part that I never get tired of is figuring out what journalists want. I like to say that reporters are my clients, just as much as the people who pay me for my PR services. You’ve got to know what to pitch, who to pitch it to, and when to pitch it, and it’s different for every project.
As for why I work with tech companies, it’s partly that I’m a bit of a gadget nerd. But it’s also because I’m just plain inquisitive. I’m excited about how technologies such as autonomous vehicles will help us live more fulfilling lives, and I want to learn about them.
What’s more challenging: handling communication for a startup or an enterprise? Why?
Earlier in my career, I worked with a bunch of big public companies, including Sony, Sun, HP, and Autodesk. It was great to represent iconic brands and to get the opportunity to work with fantastic people like Curtis Sasaki, a former Sun VP, I worked with, who’s now at Samsung. The downside of large companies is that sometimes you need to learn how to deal with red tape and slow approval cycles.
I couldn’t do what I do today without that background. But today, I work mostly with startups, and I love it. You need to know how to do more with less, but being scrappy is fun, and there tend to be fewer roadblocks. And I get the opportunity to help shape companies and their offerings from the ground up, which is infinitely rewarding.
Whether a company is big or small, the most important thing is that there’s a good story to be told.
Entrepreneurs often wonder whether it’s best to bring someone in-house to handle PR versus hiring an agency. How should they think about communications?
Sometimes companies think that the big reason to hire an agency is because it’s easier to outsource your PR effort. Here’s a secret: Sometimes, it’s more work. Traditional agencies need a lot of hand-holding. At the very least, you should have someone on staff who’s clearly in charge of marketing to manage your PR effort, even if an agency is involved.
If you do bring on an agency, you shouldn’t be dazzled by big agency names just because they’re big names. Either a boutique or a well-known PR firm might be right for you, but the most important thing is that you find someone who clearly understands your particular challenges and can align deliverables based on your business objectives.
You also want someone who can wear many hats, particularly if you’re a small company. These days, the lines between PR, social, and inbound and outbound marketing can be blurry.
Describe some of the memorable campaigns you have done and what were the strategies?
In February at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, we helped launch the F(x)tec Pro 1–a very modern smartphone with a slide-out keyboard. The goal was to drive pre-orders for the device, which ships in July, so it was important that as many gadget enthusiasts as possible learn about the product. With less than a month of preparation time, we managed everything from product and executive availability to press assets. We approached each journalist carefully — you should never spam anyone — and because we identified the right ones to pitch, we ended up with more than 27 press briefings and 60 pieces of coverage.
It’s important to understand, though, that success isn’t always about the volume of content. Last year, we helped secure a feature in Wired for Dronamics, a Bulgaria-based developer of unmanned aerial systems for cargo. It was just one article. But it was the right audience and the right story for the company, which wanted to reach people outside the transportation industry. To this day, investors and potential partners around the world tell the founders that they learned about Dronamics from that feature.
What’s your approach in reaching out to journalists for coverage? Any suggestions for founders thinking about doing it themselves?
My advice to founders who are thinking about doing PR personally is simple: Don’t! It isn’t something you can dash off in your spare time. Journalists are busy and they’re inundated with bad pitches. Annoying them is worse than never contacting them at all.
That said, if you do pitch, you need to start by being objective. Many people who work at startups think everything they do is fabulous, but you have to think clearly. If a journalist has never heard of you or your company, it may be an uphill battle.
Some startups carpet-bomb journalists with the same generic emailed pitch, hoping someone will bite. Instead, you should identify the writers who might actually care by reading their past work and learning their hot buttons. Have a clear goal in mind, whether it’s simply introducing yourself or sharing a piece of embargoed news.
What should companies think about when framing their messaging across their audiences?
Public relations is not just about the press releases, especially for young companies. Press coverage may introduce you to investors, prospective partners, or new hires. You should craft messages with that in mind, and make sure what you have to say is compelling — and consistent — for all your constituencies.
Thinking this way will also help lead you to the media outlets that matter most. If you are seeking investors, you want to be in TechCrunch and VentureBeat. If not, it may not be as much of a priority.
How do you measure success within communications? How should companies determine metrics? Is it based on how many media outlets cover their news?
Companies that are new to PR often think about it in terms of volume of coverage. They want ten stories, or twenty stories. But the stories are only a means to an end. And every company has different goals.
I start by asking new clients “What does success look like?” For the F(x)tec Pro 1, it was about pre-orders, For another company, it might be downloads or crowdfunding backers or thought leadership. Once you know that, you can start to map out a PR plan.
What’s a good way to help reporters with their stories? How should companies think about developing their content strategy?
For starters, understand that journalists don’t care about your content strategy — they care about the stories their readers value. For one reporter, that might be exclusive funding news; for another, a deep-dive behind-the-scenes story. Identify what each one needs, then try to offer it to them.
The days of journalists being assigned to a specific beat are long gone, so it’s not just about identifying people who cover a particular topic. You need to figure out what makes writers tick. Their Twitter feed can be as useful for that as their archive of past stories.
It’s also important to know when not to contact reporters. If it’s WWDC week, you’re doing them a favor if you leave them alone rather than pitching them on a story they won’t have time to cover.
What’s the right way to respond to clients/founders when they see their competitor written up in an article and want to get their company mentioned too? How should they position themselves when being discussed among their competitors?
Seeing a story focused solely on your client’s biggest competitor can seem like the worst thing possible. But it’s hardly the end of the world. What you don’t want to do is to ask reporters to insert mentions of a client after the fact; that request will only make enemies. Even pitching them to do an additional story about your client is counterproductive unless you have compelling news.
What is worth doing is dropping a line to a writer simply to introduce yourself and make sure they’re aware of a relevant client and to offer any background materials they might find valuable. That can be helpful further down the road when you do have a strong story to pitch.
Are there any great resources you recommend for those in communication or marketing to learn from?
Here are my top bookmarks:
My colleague, social maven Alexandra Gebhardt, recommends SproutSocial and Buffer to help manage social searches, monitor hashtags, and set up social posts across multiple platforms; and BuzzSumo to monitor coverage.
Special thanks go out to Marie Domingo for participating in this discussion. “10 Questions” is a project designed to learn more from the people in tech and how it relates to businesses. If you’d like to be interviewed, I’d love to hear from you — send me a note on Twitter (@thekenyeung), Facebook, or here on LinkedIn. You can also find this entire series shared on Flipboard and also on Medium.
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