Chris Preimesberger is a familiar name in tech journalism. He’s worked 40+ years as a reporter, most recently as eWeek’s editor-in-chief and now as an Offleash advisor. Offleash connected with Chris to learn more about what he’s up to now, his pitching advice for PR pros, and the celebrities he’s interviewed during his journalism career (hint: a president, a musician, and a legendary actor).
You have tracked, reported and analyzed IT news and trends for more than 25 years. Many PR professionals and business leaders know you from your 15+ years at eWeek. You left eWeek’s editor-in-chief chair in April. What have you been up to since?
Minus the burden of running an entire website for the first time since 2011, it feels really nice to focus only on content again! I’m now contracting with four clients, among them ZDNet, for Larry Dignan and David Grober. I have a series of assigned stories, plus I come up with my own from time to time, and I edit other writers’ articles as needed. I sometimes coach writers on issues they face with certain companies and IT thought leaders, and I look for gaps in ZDNet’s coverage and help us fill them (there aren’t very many!).
I’m also writing/editing/coaching at three other clients–one a major social network and two content marketing and PR agencies, one on each coast. So I’m keeping quite busy and able to work on projects in (generally) my own time.
You’ve obviously tracked the tech industry for many years as a journalist. How has the tech landscape changed during the past year (COVID)? What surprised you the most? The least?
The main thing that changed for me professionally is that there were no physical conferences to attend. I’ve been working mostly from a home office for more than 20 years after working in publication offices since I graduated from college, so I’m quite accustomed to that. As a writer/researcher, I can work from anywhere I feel comfortable; for that I’m very grateful.
What surprised me the most? Probably the fact that we actually don’t need physical conferences to get work done. But wow, how it makes the world a lot less interesting when you’re doing all your meetings via a computer screen! There’s nothing like eye contact, body language, and handshakes to make the work more human and interesting. Besides, when someone takes you into their confidence in a 1:1 meetup, you can learn good things you never might have discussed in a videoconference, where there’s always somebody eavesdropping!
Nothing surprised me “the least”!
What types of pitches motivate you to 1) open them and 2) pursue a story? What are the must-have components of a winning pitch?
As I scan email messages each day, I first look to see who the senders are, then check to see what they’re sending me. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that certain people working with certain companies are going to send legitimate ideas for me to cover. Whatever they’re pitching, I will check out; for me, it doesn’t matter how the pitches are worded or how the message is positioned–the sender already has credibility with me.
For all the others I don’t know or don’t know well, I’ll read the subject line and see if it’s something that might fit into our coverage areas. If it’s a startup and it has an unusual new tech idea or a new twist on an established technology, I’ll give it serious consideration for an intro article, because new ideas should get visibility if possible.
For those PR folks who have made promises to me in the past and not followed up (fortunately, there have not been many of those over the years), I WILL remember you. It’s like a waiter going out of his/her way to serve people at a table who just happened to forget a tip; that waiter will never forget them when they return.
A winning pitch must have:
- legitimate news to explain in one page or less;
- contact information for the PR person, the thought leader or company executive, and an analyst, if possible;
- interview time windows of availability for the thought leader or analyst; and
- links to the company website, analysts’ views and images.
Information about the particular market (for context) is usually a good addition. Anything else for me is superfluous.
Journalism has changed tremendously over the years due to competition for clicks, social media, reporters covering multiple beats and shorter deadlines. How does this affect PR professionals and their work? What advice do you have for PR professionals when it comes to working with journalists?
Like everything else, we all have to learn to work faster, smarter, and more efficiently, using the many good tools we now have to research, interview, write and publish. If you cannot be agile and keep up, then perhaps this isn’t the business for you. I started in the era of wired phones, typewriters on paper, and hard newspaper deadlines; it was a world away from the immediacy we have today. I’ve had to pivot many times in my 46 years in journalism, including the technology and topic areas I’ve covered: sports, entertainment and technology. It’s all about telling a story from beginning to end–clearly and with credibility.
Advice? Be straight with us at all times. Become a credible resource by virtue of your good work. We do appreciate it. I’ve been on the PR side, so I know it can be a thankless job at times, but you are indeed performing a major service in helping get important messages to the messengers.
What types of stories/angles/beats are you tracking right now?
Anything involving innovation in IT; thought leaders, startups and their ideas; AI and ML in all kinds of applications and how they improve those apps, how we can better secure data in transit and storage; the continual improvements in connected mobile devices; how we can improve moderation of social networks to remove hate speech and other objectionable language quickly and efficiently.
What areas of tech will be thriving a year from now?
Pretty much what we see thriving today: videoconferencing, edge computing (it will be more refined and widespread by 2022), distance health care, networking (which continues to improve almost quarterly), mobile devices. Autonomous vehicles are still years away from routine usage. Cryptocurrency is stuck because so many people refuse to deal with it–they won’t use what they cannot understand.
When you’re working in your home office, what’s your music soundtrack — what are you listening to?
My “favorites” lists on Spotify and Pandora include Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, the Beatles, Queen, James Taylor, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Bob Dylan, and others from that era. But while I’m working I prefer to have nature sounds, space drones or piano or acoustic guitar instrumentals on in the background. I get distracted by good pop music when I’m concentrating on writing.
What’s one thing (or a fun fact) readers may not know about you?
I’m a musician (piano, guitar, bass) who’s performed with a folk-style group, Crossroads, since the 1980s in the Portola Valley-Woodside area. We’ve done local coffee-house events, church events, and corporate events. We also play together in our living rooms!
Oh, this: Backstage after a concert, the marvelous John Denver (whom I had interviewed previously) prayed a blessing on our soon-to-be-born child (daughter Megan) while she was still in Becky’s womb in 1986. She’s always considered herself a blessed person, and she is.
Last one: I’ve interviewed many well-known people over the years, including Bill Clinton, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cary Grant, Neil Young, and many more.