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How Tech Writers Are Reacting to the Pandemic

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michael oconnell director
Michael O’Connell
Director | Boston, MA
  • Video
  • Public Relations
  • Technology

How Tech Writers Are Reacting to the Pandemic

michael oconnell director
Michael O’Connell
Director | Boston, MA

More than a half year into the COVID-19 pandemic, tech journalists aren’t tired of writing about the subject – not by a long shot. They’re still focused on weaving fresh angles about the virus’ impacts into practically every story they pursue.

This was evident in last week’s media panel, “Breaking Into the COVID-19 News Cycle.” Guiding the discussion, Megan Kessler, Senior Vice President, PAN Communications, conversed with journalists from leading publications:

Scroll down to the bottom of the blog for the recording and time stamped questions asked throughout the discussion!

Here are some key takeaways and soundbites from the virtual event:

“Every story is a COVID story to some degree because the pandemic is still ongoing and we’re feeling the economic impacts of it,” TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm said during the recent virtual panel session hosted by PAN Communications. “So, if people send me data, they may not say ‘COVID data,’ but it’s data that’s impacted by COVID. So, it’s hard to parse out what counts as a non-COVID data point or story – because it’s the world we’re still in and will be (in) for 10, 12 months. It’s going to be a minute until we can go outside and not be worried about our fellow person.”

During the session, the writers discussed their beats, innovation-related topics that are resonating with them, and some do’s and don’ts for marketers pitching them stories.

O’Donnell, who focuses largely on customers using enterprise tech, said he’s interested in how the virus’ impacts are changing companies’ purchasing decisions and how technology is enabling things like supply chain visibility.

“COVID has accelerated the pace for some companies, while others have budget issues that they might not have had before – and they might’ve started to pull back on some purchases,” O’Donnell said. “Customers have seen the value of having more intelligence in their core systems. Some of them have been accelerating projects that might have been nice to have but not a must have, whereas others can’t commit to such a large type of investment in their systems.”

InformationWeek’s Ruth, who focuses on cloud computing and enterprise applications, said he’s seeing a lot of interest in robotics, edge computing and monitoring the delivery of technology services.

“There was that initial conversation of how to get to the cloud,” he said. “Now we’re into the playground and how we make the most of it.”

Wilhelm focuses on startups and more on financial metrics for companies than on detailed use cases. He said he has been busy covering tech IPOs in recent months. Despite some uncertainty in the business climate, Wilhelm said based on investors’ interest in growth-stage companies he expects the IPO boom to continue into 2021.

“We’ll see a lot more in next 3-5 months if things stay the way they are,” he said. “It should be pretty active in the exit cycle for later-stage startups.”

Startups: Learn how to use creativity to find opportunity in an economic downturn.

Many attendees working for PR companies submitted questions seeking insights into how to get their clients noticed during the pandemic. The journalists said the formula hasn’t changed: be “real,” be brief, and pitch stories that connect to larger trends in the business world.

“There’s some tough love that needs to happen, where you don’t just want to talk about lofty ideas … We need to see the grit,” Ruth said. “Making that real tangible connection is key.”

“The story has to fit in with the industries that I cover, it has to be pretty current, and it has to deal with issues that are pretty top of mind,” O’Donnell said. “Obviously COVID is right up there now. We always have to have some sort of customer tie-in; there has to be a way you can show how actual people are using the technology and what it can do to help our users make decisions.”

The journalists said they’ve seen companies change their tone significantly during the pandemic. Now that companies have adjusted to the disruption and are at least starting to think about a return to the office, they’re becoming more open with their communications.

“One thing that’s been interesting to watch is how much conversations have changed since March,” Wilhelm said. “Back in March, everyone was super scared. Then in April some companies are saying ‘We’ve been hit, but not quite as hard.’ Then the acceleration kind of picked up for a lot of companies through the digital transformation. And from that point on, there’s been a lot of companies that have been really crushing it. So people have kind of changed up their talk tracks. It’s like every month has been a year in 2020.”

Missed the event and want to learn more? Listen in to the recording below!

Key Questions from the Discussion

  • (00:04:00) How has COVID-19 changed the earned media landscape in your experience as a journalist?
  • (00:06:20) As you talk with IT leaders and their customers, what are some of the new innovations and trends you’re seeing come through as you cover these companies?
  • (00:11:12) What are your thoughts on how active the IPO market is right now, and what are you watching for?
  • (00:12:30) How should we be weighing the political landscape of the US?
  • (00:13:50) How should early stage startups (B2B, Saas) think about breaking into the news cycle to tell their story? What do you look for when assessing?
  • (00:18:20) Related to funding news, what metrics do you want companies to share?
  • (00:22:55) As a journalist, do you ever attend webinars hosted by a business for background info on an industry?
  • (00:24:05) What trends are you seeing and what do you anticipate we’ll be focused on in the next 3-6 months?
  • (00:26:58) Some experts believe that re-skilling in in-demand fields will soften the economic blow of COVID-19. Is this a trend you’ll continue to monitor?
  • (00:29:48) Are you at the stage of receiving pitches and stories that are non-COVID related?
  • (00:31:57) Do you use company-sponsored surveys or data stories? And what metrics do you look for?
  • (00:35:06) How do you feel about companies who made workforce or customer commitments at the start of the pandemic and cannot follow through? Is there a general feeling of forgiveness given the global state of affairs?
  • (00:37:43) What are the top criteria you’re using right now to determine what founders, companies and executives you’re interviewing right now?
  • (00:43:54) You’ve said in the past that you’re interested in talking to companies who have been impacted by COVID and what their recovery strategies look like. Most companies are afraid to engage in earned media on these topics – why should they?
  • (00:47:05) If you could tell this engaged group of marketing/communications pros one thing today, what would it be?

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