Recorded Live at PreGame HQ: An Interview with
the Portland Business Journal’s Malia Spencer
Plus some new PR pet peeves from Malia, and what exactly is a startup anyway?
Malia Spencer has spent the last four years digging deep into Portland’s technology, startup, and entrepreneur culture for the Portland Business Journal. She was originally hired to cover banking technology, but quickly transitioned to reporting on venture capital, private equity, and angel investors because they’re a growing part of Portland’s burgeoning tech sector.
Early in our interview, recorded live at PreGame HQ, I asked Malia for her opinion on Portland’s place in the national tech scene. She breaks the country into three basic tiers, with areas like Boston, New York, and Silicon Valley occupying the top spots, Seattle and Austin in tier 2, and other cities like Denver and Portland in tier 3. In Malia’s view, Portland is trying to move up to tier 2 thanks to its recent growth.
I was prompted to ask Malia about how she defines a startup, because I often ask myself that same question. Could I call my own business a startup and pitch it that way for coverage? While Malia takes a rather broad view of the word in her own coverage – often profiling the abundant maker and food entrepreneurs in PDX – she defines a more traditional startup as a company with a high gross potential over the short term that’s also backed by venture capital funds.
Malia also covers other small companies that might not have a lot of investors, but that often depends on how she believes the story will land with her audience.
The readers who are looking at the business journal are “people who have grown businesses, and can read a story to learn what they can do to help their business,” Malia said. So the stories she gravitates towards are going to include those details.
So what should you do to have your company featured in the journal? Malia was kind enough to share her best PR tips, and perhaps more importantly, what PR pros and entrepreneurs should absolutely NOT do.
Malia’s PR Pet Peeves
Always prepared, Malia came to our live podcast interview with a list of pet peeves she’d sourced from the members of her newsroom, which PR Pros would be wise to heed.
- Malia’s #1 pet peeve is pitchers who don’t do their homework. She says she gets so many irrelevant story ideas from people outside the Portland area that too often turn into irrelevant phone calls. Malia advises people interested in getting PBJ coverage to first read the journal so they understand what’s in it and what the reporters cover.
- Never ask for an advance review, because no journalist with any ethics would ever send one.
- If a reporter hasn’t responded to your pitch, don’t do more than one telephone or email follow up. Malia says that if she’s interested in a story idea, she’ll respond to a pitch immediately.
- And finally, no more than 2 people on a conference call.
Malia’s PR Tips
So once you’ve avoided these pet peeves, what can PR Pros or entrepreneurs do to get coverage in the journal? Malia says, it all starts with the story.
- First there needs to be a news hook. The journal is generally interested in new C-Suite hires that might make a big impact, or if a startup has raised a new round of funding. They also frequently cover businesses that have landed a huge sale or a contract that’s going to change what it’s doing in a big way. So before you pitch, think twice about how you’ll position your story’s news hook.
- Malia reminded the audience that even if she decides to follow up on a pitch with her own story, the final version could look different than your original suggestion.
- In response to an audience question, Malia said that pitches don’t have to come in the traditional press release format, and in most cases a regular email is sufficient.
- Many times, entrepreneurs can get coverage by simply reaching out to reporters personally to let them know who they are and what they’re doing, and then inviting them to talk more about it over coffee.
Beyond feature stories, The Portland Business Journal also publishes other regular content that PR Pros and entrepreneurs should consider.
- One good way to get coverage is through “The Pitch.” This feature is essentially a written investor pitch which combines a company questionnaire with a write up interview about a company’s genesis story. “The Pitch” always runs online and will run in the print edition as space allows.
- The journal also publishes weekly lists throughout the year, such as The Fastest Growing Private Companies in Oregon or The Largest Architecture Firms in the Portland Metro Area. PBJ editors are always looking for list topic suggestions or business nominations.
- In addition to lists, the PBJ also publishes regular awards for outstanding businesses and business executives. When this is mentioned, I remind PR folks that clients will love you forever if you get them an award.
This episode of PR Talk is brought to you by PRSA Oregon
Throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington, PRSA provides members with networking, mentorship, skill building and professional development opportunities – whether you are a new professional fresh out of college or a skilled expert with 20 years in the industry. Check out PRSAoregon.org for more information on how membership can help you grow and connect.
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