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How to get your name in the paper

CNET's Michael Kanellos offers rules and recommendations for getting the media to work for you.

It's an age-old question. "We are one of the world's leading manufacturers of polymer-based rectifier diodes. How do we get better coverage in the media?"

News coverage is clearly more of an art than a science. Apple Computer commands less market share in PCs than Acer or Toshiba, yet Apple events and conferences generate the kind of frenzied news coverage that would make it seem the equal, in economic terms, of ChevronTexaco. When Sun Microsystems bought StorageTek, reporters and editors launched into detailed speculations on the meaning.

If Hewlett-Packard tomorrow morning said it planned to buy the Orkney Islands, the world would shrug.

Many blame the imbalance on media bias while others seem to claim the problem lies in how companies position themselves. In reality, both these factors play a role, but so do things like routine, jealousy and behavior.

So how do you get the media to work for you? Here are my rules and recommendations:

Every day is a new day. Reporters have about the same attention span as a house cat. It's one of the true joys of the job. While some projects may take days or even weeks, most assignments fall on your desk that morning and are gone by midafternoon. Most of us have difficulty remembering what we did two days ago.

Therefore, think of your news pitch or product as a rubber mouse. Dangle it out there early (between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., before the news meeting) and try to fill someone's calendar. If it fails, you can always try again with slightly different bait tomorrow.

Criticize your enemies. Sun established itself for years as the only force in the universe standing against Microsoft domination (and, at alternate times, Intel and IBM domination). The irony was that Sun and Microsoft actually don't compete directly that much: Microsoft concentrates on low-end servers and PCs, while Sun lives on high-end servers. Still, it made good copy and helped Sun establish itself as a household name. And Scott McNealy has never had to face off against Bill Gates outside of shop class.

Figure out who writes what. It's always a waste of time to call someone about bringing XML to midmarket ERP solutions when they write about digital cameras and stun guns. Read the newspaper, magazine or Web site thoroughly first, determine who the likely author might be.

Use both your first and last name on the phone. This is not Middle Earth, where a first name and a tribal association--I am Mandor, son of Blanc + Otis--will suffice for identification purposes. There's nothing more confusing than a caller who only says "Hi, it's me, Molly," before launching into a lengthy discussion on product features, particularly if you've never met.

Don't take it personally. Think of it. Do you really care that Lamprey Software enabled a regional chain of convenience stores to cut distribution costs by 32 percent over a three-month period? Don't let that mask of indifference on the listener's face fool you: Some subjects actually are somewhat dull.

Rarely claim to be first. A lot of companies claim to be first in something, but most readers don't believe it anyway.

It's also easy to get usurped in "first." Advanced Micro Devices for months claimed a number of firsts in dual-core processors. Intel beat them to the market with its dual-core chip by a few days and the big campaign AMD had waged turned out to be for naught. Similarly, back in 2000, Intel wanted to launch a 1GHz chip three months early. When the plans went public, AMD jiggled the road map to launch its 1GHz two days earlier.

Don't promise an exclusive a day later. Sometimes, a company will give an "exclusive" to a large media outlet such as The New York Times and then hit up other sites the next day offering a special interview with the CEO or some other exec. Unfortunately, this follow-up call typically comes a few minutes after the reporter has explained why the story is irrelevant or wrong.

Simple rule: The next-day take is always critical.

Let the execs speak. PR firms constantly fear that frank or outrageous comments from a CEO or other high-ranking exec will end up in print and hurt the company. It might, but there's a long-term benefit. The reporter (and likely the whole publication) will think the interviewee considers them an equal. Everything they say after that will be taken as true. Indirect flattery can do wonders.

Don't make up words. Back in 1997, the head of a large investment bank called some of us reporters together at a conference to talk about the company's new Internet strategy. "We call it the Webolution," he said. Silence ensued.

Leak like crazy. You can surprise the world with a new line of notebooks on a single day, or you can confirm earlier rumors that your company is working on a line, and subsequently confirm a code name, and then subsequently confirm a tentative release date. This way, you get five stories on the same subject.