For someone running a company, dealing with the media is tricky. Keith Rabois, Square’s former COO and newly minted venture capitalist with Khosla Ventures, knows a thing or two about it. He says he’s been the guy in charge of talking to the media at every company he’s been a part of — from the later part of his tenure at PayPal to LinkedIn to Slide to Square. At the Founder Showcase in Mountain View, CA, earlier this week, he talked about different ways an executive can deal with a prodding journalist. (Full disclosure: I am a journalist. Who is often prodding.)
1. Don’t ignore them
Rabois points out that, just as a founder has a job to do, so does a journalist. “If you don’t help them, you just frustrate them,” he says. He recalled getting calls from Mike Arrington poking around. “My heart would skip like three beats,” he says, because he knew Arrington probably had some piece of information that he shouldn’t have known. But he answered, he says, because being direct and honest about the company was always the best way to handle difficult calls.
2. Don’t lie
No brainer, right? Wellll, what if a journalist has found out about a funding round that you’re not ready to announce? Nope, don’t lie. “Denying that you’ve signed a term sheet – if you have – is not the best strategy,” he says. Neither is ignoring the call, as he mentions above. One of the reasons is thinking long term and not burning bridges. “If you think you’re going to be in this business for a long time, and you’re going to be an entrepreneur with a lot of companies,” Rabois says, “It is worth not trying to take the short term advantage.”
By answering, you can make sure the story is framed correctly. Another possibility, he says, is hiring a consultant if the company can afford it – someone who is adept at dealing with these situations.
3. Point them in the right direction
“I don’t know if I’ve ever given a ‘no comment’ answer in 13 years, because it won’t help you,” he says. Even if you are in a position where you literally can’t help them, try to steer the journalist toward someone who can help, he says. “Or you give off the record guidance as to where they might look to make their time more valuable.”
4. Help in another way
Rabois says that occasionally, he can be helpful in ways that don’t involve his company. For example, he’ll talk to a reporter about macro trends that might lead to another story somewhere down the line. Bait and switch? Possibly. But it’s better than nothing.
So there you have it. The Rabois guide to good media relations. For what it’s worth, these are all PandoDaily-approved.
[Image courtesy TechCrunch]