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How to get me to write about your product

Today's piece in The Guardian is probably worth dissecting to show just where my ideas come from, and how they turn into a newspaper (or magazine) feature.

So for any PRs or product evangelists reading, this is how I put together a Guardian feature. Or at least how it was for that piece...

The first thing to note is: there are concepts I'm interested in. From an IT strategy point of view, I'm fascinated by the difficulties IT and business have in communicating vital information. Anything that helps solve this problem is going to be of interest. Why this topic? Quite simple really. I'm also an IT strategy consultant, and my role over many years has been trying to act as an interface between business needs and IT possibilities - think of me as a translator.

It's a good idea for PR and marketing folk to know their target's interests - but also be ready for that little bit serendipity that turns an email or an RSS entry into an article.

I often go to press events on spec. It's important for me to have a lot of background information. A few weeks back I went to a round table run by Microfocus, looking at how legacy systems can be integrated into modern architectures. One of the attendees, a Forrester analyst, had an interesting story to tell about how IT strategy could be linked to business strategy, using a town-planning metaphor. This idea caught my attention, as it linked in with the concept of portfolio management as a high-level project planning tool. Application strategy planning looked to be an interesting way of bridging that divide between business needs and IT resources.

There was something here, and I let it marinade for a bit, before proposing a piece to my editor.

He liked the idea, and commissioned me to deliver a piece at the longest length in the newspaper section by the end of the week. While there was enough information in the white papers I'd been sent by the analyst, I wanted a little more. Then a press release dropped into my mailbox, for a new project management tool that mixed business intelligence with tradition techniques to help align development project portfolios with business needs - and the available skills, staff and budget. This was ideal for the piece, so I contacted the PR company that had sent me the release, and arranged an interview with the US-based COO of the company. He was able to talk to me at short notice - something that's often important when I have short deadlines (as is often the case with newspaper pieces).

At the same time, I was re-arranging a briefing from a management tools vendor on a new product that would form the centrepiece of their service management tools. I'd had to cancel it in the past as I'd been out the country, but felt I should make the effort to hear what they had to say. To be honest I didn't have any plans for this conversation, and I was planning to just get an update on an interesting strategy from a company I've been tracking for several years now. I had some time free the next day, so organised a conversation for just after the interview about the product I wanted to feature in my piece.

The interview with the first company went well, and I was starting to see a structure for the piece. However something was missing - I needed a link from the project planning and management tools to actual deployment. Here came another touch of serendipity. The tool I was being briefed on turned out to be the missing link, and could be used as a feedback loop, helping manage large infrastructures and many, many applications. I could then tie it all into the key areas of operational risk management and ITIL.

I had my story, and set to work.

And the rest is a matter of sub-editing...