Public Relations 101 For Product Managers

Would you rather slam into a box of live scorpions at 90MPH than talk with reporters or other members of the media?

Then buckle up, buster, because we here at Product Management Meets Pop Culture are going to flush that fear right out of your head and replace it with some practical tips on extracting maximum value from your media experience while avoiding the major pitfalls.

It’s time for Public Relations 101 For Product Managers!


Destro & Dr. Mindbender opted for the scorpions. They chose… poorly.

Here’s Advice That’s Generally Good But Generally Bad In Product PR

My mother loves Disney films, and apparently learned some of her parenting skills from them. Because she would often quote them while disciplining me. One of her signature lines came from the movie Bambie:

“If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all.”

Generally, that’s actually pretty good advice. Unless you’re a product manager who’s supposed to interact with the media. In which case, that’s the worst advice.

If the media has contacted you, it’s because they think you’re interesting for some reason.

If you’ve contacted them, it’s because you think you have something newsworthy. (Hopefully you do.)

Either way, don’t clam up when it’s time to talk. Unless your company has a specific policy in place about talking with the media; in that case, always refer to the policy.

5 Things You Should Always Do

  • Know your key messages, cold. Double-check your facts. Be able to convey your #1 message in 20 seconds or less.
  • Avoid one-word answers. Those will make you sound simple-minded at best and combative at worst.
  • Avoid jargon. Technobabble was tedious on Star Trek, and it’s tedious in real life. Use common language. Your goal is to be clear and compelling. Not to show off your specialized knowledge.
  • Be passionate! You’re the subject matter expert, right? And you’ve studied this topic because you care about it on some level. Don’t act aloof in a misguided attempt to seem in control; let your feelings shine through.
  • Be quotable! The media love comments that are strong, simple, and (at least, seemingly) original.

5 Things You Should Never Do

  • Don’t assume the journalist knows everything about your business. Because a) they don’t, and b) they don’t need to.
  • Don’t lie, vamp, or omit pertinent facts. That can only come back to haunt you. And if you’re thinking of BS’ing your way through an answer? Stop. If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell the journalist you’ll get back to them by [insert an appropriate time] with the answer. Honesty with the media is the best policy.
  • Don’t abuse your contact information. Sure, you may feel like you and the reporter hit it off. But don’t mistake professional courtesy for friendship, and never contact them unnecessarily–especially when they’re on deadline.
  • Don’t expect the media to explain why your product or service is superior. You need to explain that to them.
  • Don’t tell the media how to do their job. Because, really, who likes that? And, yet, I’ve seen it happen.

3 Bonus Tips!

During the interview…

  • Say the name of your company and product! Sounds obvious, right? But in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget. At least, it was for me.
  • Don’t bad mouth the competition! It’s tempting, but wrong. Be positive. Sell your product. What’s the benefit? What makes it special? Was it first? Best? The one and only Product that does XYZ?
  • Be interesting! Start with a human interest angle, if possible. An anecdote. Identify trends and market movements. Supply third party facts & stats.

+1 Super-Important Piece Of Advice

Answer the question you wish you’d been asked.

In real life, that approach would probably lose you some good friends. However, in PR — and this is a lesson that I’m still learning — a question is more of a jumping-off point. An opportunity to articulate your key messages.

Don’t let a question box you in. And don’t just answer the question. Answer the question in a way that advances your agenda.

Special Thanks

To my PR guru Kathy O’Reilly, who taught me more about public relations than I ever wanted to know!

Additional Resources

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7 thoughts on “Public Relations 101 For Product Managers”

  1. Good set of tips. Also: Before talking to a reporter, ask what topics they want to cover. Research articles they’ve written recently to get a sense of their style and point of view.

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