How To Win Friends Who Influence People

By Heidi Roizen

How on earth did I become the subject of a  well-known Harvard case  about being a master networker?

During T/Maker’s early years, we had zero budget for public relations.   I knew certain journalists influenced markets, so I made it my goal to be someone they wanted to talk to.   I read their work, engaged positively with them, and was highly responsive to their requests for leads for stories, even when those did not involve me (and the vast majority did not.)   Kevin Maney, the technology editor of USAToday at the time, was so impressed with my ability to connect him to people that he wrote a cover story in the business section about me as the ‘ultimate connector of Silicon Valley.’   Kathleen McGinn, a Harvard professor, read the story and decided to write a case about how I build and manage my network.   That’s how.


While I did not set out to be the ultimate connector for journalists, helping them with my network and knowledge was part of my strategy for getting tiny T/Maker more than its fair share of media attention without spending a lot of money.   Here are some pointers for you to do the same for your company:

  1. Aim at the right targets:   Pick which outlets have the audience you are trying to reach.   A human interest story about you in GQ might be personally gratifying, but it probably has no value if your goal is selling big data analytics to major enterprises.
  2. Do your homework:   Once you know who your targets are, read!   Get to know the writing style of the journalists, their biases, their favorite angles.   Figure out which journalists are most closely aligned with the stories you want to tell and read everything they write. It’s easier than ever to get to know people from afar on Twitter and Facebook to develop an even deeper perspective than what one can glean from their articles alone
  3. DIY:    As much as PR professionals can be very helpful in background,  you  are the person the journalist will be interested in, and you need to be the one to invest time in the relationship.   Another person can help gather material and shape your outreach, but you need to have the direct connection and that only comes from personal effort.
  4. Reach out well before you want something:   Let someone know when they’ve written something that you found particularly insightful, or handled a topic in a new or interesting way.   All writers — myself included — like to be acknowledged that our work meant something to someone else.   Build a relationship well before you have anything to ask for.
  5. Introduce your company or product to someone who covers your space but has not included you —  again without asking for anything.   After an article that, for example, would compare word processors but not include our product WriteNow, I would reach out to the writer, let them know that I appreciated their perspective on the products we compete with, and send them data about our market share encouraging them to reach out to me should they ever want to talk about the market or try our product.   I always did this in a positive way, never being angry that we were not included.   It worked very well.
  6. Make it easy (and fun, if possible) for someone to cover you:   This should go without saying, but you should respect deadlines and timelines, get product to the journalist in plenty of time, provide a full fact sheet, high resolution photography, and be super responsive to all incoming questions. With today’s realtime coverage environment, a ten minute delay can mean being excluded – while being first to respond can not only increase your chance of airtime, it can even influence the direction of the piece.   We also made our press tours fun by scheduling them at the end of the day and bringing pizza, beer and wine – I even baked cookies for many of these tours, having some fun with the fact that I was a very rare female CEO in the software industry.
  7. Make yourself larger than just your little company:   For many reasons, but this being one of them, I worked hard to rise through the ranks of the Software Publisher’s Association.   As a board member and ultimately president of what was the leading trade association in our industry at that time, my elevated status as an industry spokesperson helped me build relationships with journalists who might not have been interested in me as only the CEO of T/Maker.
  8. Be helpful, even (especially!) when it is not about you:   As I became known in our industry, I was often sought out for comments on breaking technology news or asked to help with sources.   I always made myself immediately available, studied up on the topic and worked to come up with pithy comments.   Sometimes I would decline, if I felt the situation was not one I could comment on, but would help the journalist find someone else relevant who I thought would comment.   Because I was always helpful and responsive I was a fixture on a number of their “call first” (or “email first”) lists, in turn   creating ever more opportunities.   That’s what I did for Kevin Maney at USAToday, and the article he wrote about me which then prompted the Harvard case has been nothing short of life-changing – and certainly not something I could have planned nor expected.
  9. When it comes out bad, don’t complain:    Inevitably, not all press will be to your liking.   My advice, don’t complain.   Different people have different approaches, but I don’t believe posting flaming negative comments or fighting journalists in any public way to be   winning strategies — after all they have the ultimate podium, you do not.     If there are factual errors point those out in the most professional way possible.
  10. Manners count:  Your kindergarten teacher told you this, and now I’m reminding you:   Be polite!   Say thank you.   Acknowledge the work that the journalist put into the story.   Repost, retweet – help them (and you) get more eyeballs on the content using social media. Journalists will cover most topics again, and if they remember you as someone helpful, likable and grateful, they will reach out to you again.

There’s a collateral benefit I’ve realized by following the above: I’ve made many lifelong friends among the journalists I’ve gotten to know along the way.   Turns out most great journalists are also intelligent, inquisitive, articulate people who are lots of fun even when (perhaps especially when) no work is involved.   I’m glad I took the time to get to know them.