Freelance technology journalist and founder of female-focused tech title Gadgette, Holly Brockwell, is a very busy woman. Winner of The Drum’s 2015 Woman of the Year and Campaign’s Best Use of Technology, Holly’s work is regularly featured in Gizmodo, TechRadar, Evening Standard, the Telegraph and the Guardian among several others.
When not writing about tech, Holly’s taking care of her adorable pet family that consists of birds and cats, living in total harmony with each other. Thankfully there’s no -Pie-vs-Sylvester feuds in her household.
She also has one of the coolest handles on Twitter.
Our Outreach Manager, Olivia Martin, catches up with her to talk pitches, press packs, and all things journalists working in the tech sector want.
OM: Talk to me about the components of a great PR pitch
HB: A good pitch gets to the point in the subject line. It gives me the meat at the top of the message, then detail below. And it includes images via Dropbox or Google Drive.
OM: How about a bad pitch?
HB: A bad pitch is some long, rambling thing, where by the time my inbox cuts it off for length, I still don't know what it's about. A terrible pitch outright lies – I had one today titled 'urgent' and it absolutely wasn't.
A bad pitch misses out details I might need to write the story; with news stories, I'm often not going to have time to go back to you and ask questions, so if it's not all in there, I'll just move onto something else. A terrible pitch gives me some vague idea of the story and asks me to email back expressing interest to find out what it actually is.
OM: Is there such a thing as the ‘perfect time to pitch’? If so, when is it?
HB: There's no perfect time, but I do news for Gizmodo UK on weekday mornings, so pitches that come through in the afternoon are more likely to be missed. That said, I do still read them and will often keep things for the next day's shift.
OM: Is it commonplace for you to work with PRs on a story idea before the campaign is even created?
HB: Not usually, because I mostly work with online media and quick-turnaround print. It's quite funny when I get emails asking about my ‘content calendar’ for the year and suchlike. I often have no clue what I'll be doing next week.
I'm not sure if this is commonplace but I very often go from pitch to acceptance to submission to publication within a couple of hours, so I really don't have time to be chasing quotes and images.
OM: If you could give one piece of advice to a PR wanting to get their client featured, what would it be?
HB: There's no magic bullet. If you're representing a headphone brand and I'm writing about hard drives, there's nothing you can say about your client that'll get it included. It's not always a case of bad pitching or targeting – sometimes I just can't do anything with it at that particular time.
But I do often search my inbox for keywords and come back to things I might not have responded to at the time.
Assuming it is a relevant product to what I'm writing, a weird tip I would give is to make sure there are images available. I often write a page for the Evening Standard, for instance, and a spread of dull black tech isn't going to make anyone stop and read. It's quite a hard page to compile because so many tech products only come in black, white and grey – because the Standard uses cutout images, I can't add around the product.
I think the same thing as a consumer too – more choices please!
OM: What are you looking for out of a meeting with a PR? Does anyone have time to ‘go for coffee’ anymore?
HB: I'm going to be really honest here. When I was a salaried full-time reporter, I would go for coffee meetings, because I was still being paid. They were lovely and I really enjoyed meeting people and having a chat, but honestly, I didn't get anything out of them that I couldn't have got through email.
Now that I'm freelance, I don't tend to meet up with PRs anymore because I could be using that time to earn. It probably sounds really harsh and mercenary, but I have specific targets worked out for every day, week and month that I need to hit to pay my bills. You need this kind of thing to motivate you when you're freelance. Choosing to spend three hours (assuming 1.5 hours talking and 45 mins travel each way, which is about average in London) chatting over lunch or coffee just doesn't make economic sense when I could have knocked out a commission or two in that time.
I still get to chat to PRs at industry events and on social media. Coffee meetings were a lovely break in the day, and I do think they help relationship-wise – but there are just too many things competing for my time, and the first thing to go are unpaid ‘nice-to-haves’.
That said, I always appreciate a friendly, personal email, and often get into chats with PRs that way. It's not the same as a face-to-face of course, but it is nice to have emails popping up that aren't just: "Write about my thing! K thx."
OM: What are your websites for inspiration and why?
HB: Like all nerds, I'm absolutely obsessed with the personal blend of topics I've put together in my Reddit homepage. I often find things that haven't been covered much emerging on Reddit and Twitter. Twitter is an all-round great source for journalists – everything from stories to quotes to contacts, and for embedding people's tweets to illustrate breaking news.
Publication-wise, I'm a big fan of The Verge's down-to-earth, TL;DR approach to tech stories. I love the British snark on Gizmodo UK (my colleague Gary Cutlack writes some of the funniest subheads on the web). And – perhaps unusually – I really like email newsletters. For instance, James Whatley writes an excellent weekly one that's full of gems.