In the tech world, product launches have become cultural spectacles.
Google’s announcement event of its first phone, Pixel, last week was the most recent to shake the consumer tech world. Consumers, interested parties, tech reporters, and, of course, competitors, tuned in.
Tech reporting outlets gear up for product launches, publishing dozens of articles during the events, keeping live blogs, and making sure to cover every aspect of the announcement.
But, with an event as big as Google’s product launch last week, how exactly do tech publications prepare for one of their biggest days of the year?
Product announcements are unique in the sense that there’s a clear when and where of the story, but you don’t necessarily know what will be said once it comes down to the day of the event.
According to Vlad Savov, senior editor and co-founder of The Verge, preparation starts long before a given product launch.
“The long-term preparation is simply keeping a close watch of the tech industry in order to know the context in which Google’s launches are happening,” said Savov, in an interview with MediaFile.
Since the team at Verge is straddled between various time zones on either side of the Atlantic , the team collaborated mostly via the organizational chat and file-sharing tool Slack.
“We had planning meetings in order [to prepare] and sketched out a plan based on what we anticipated Google’s announcements would be (the numerous leaks helped with the latter part),” added Savov.
Brian Heater, the hardware editor at TechCrunch, is more wary of trusting leaked information because you “can’t rely on rumor[s] too much, but they can definitely give you a sense of what may or may not be coming.”
For the team at TechCrunch, it’s all hands in. One person runs the live blog, one person handles photo coverage, and everyone else follows along with the livestream to ensure that each key fact gets its own story.
“There’s only so much preparation you can do,” said Heater, who covered the main product announcement piece for TechCrunch.
Once the event started at 9a.m. in San Francisco, it was a race against the clock.
Savov started writing his breaking news story for The Verge “within seconds of Google saying the word ‘Pixel’ on stage” he said. “But it wasn’t until an hour later that the article was fully fleshed out with the full content of Google’s announcement.”
“You’re often competing against hundreds of people for what comes down to really a few fractions of a second,” said Heater.
There is an added challenge of covering the event remotely because you are viewing the event at a delayed time, as both Savov and Heater did with Google’s Pixel event.
Throughout the event, Savov’s “experience was mostly staring into [his] editing window and pushing constant updates while listening to Google’s presentation via YouTube.”
“It’s a really crowded media landscape, it’s particularly crowded in the world of tech blogging. When it comes to breaking story, it’s all about timing,” said Heater.
One of the biggest challenges beyond timing is fragmentation. Even if you know what you’ll be hearing during an product announcement, you can never be too sure how it’ll be packaged.
“There’s an ideal way to structure a news article and then there’s the way companies present details about their products — the two don’t often align,” according to Savov.
For Google’s event, it was clear there would be a phone announcement, but it’s hard to predict what else will be folded within the time frame of the event. Discussions of Google’s DayDream VR system, Google Assistant, and Google Wifi were woven throughout the hour and 45 minute presentation.
“It’s not like they come out and necessarily tell you ‘Here’s all the hardware specs for a given device,’” said Heater, “So you end up having to cobble that information together, trying to build out a story, trying to develop some kinda narrative around it.”
It’s most important to take this new information and find a way to weave it into the greater story of the company. Use what you already know from the company’s operations, culture, and product history to “help you build out a larger and more compelling story,” said Heater.
Between the pressures of time and fragmentation of information, where does the value of having a unique story angle fall? Each publication is receiving the same information at the exact same time. There isn’t much time to think about something bold when you’re aiming to be the first to publish.
This is a dilemma The Verge thinks about every day, not just with product announcements like Google.
“How to avoid sounding repetitive when covering similar ground is kind of the core of our work with covering technology,” said Savov, “The event just adds the excitement of working against more immediate time pressures.”
One way to make your piece stand out to readers? Know your audience and consider what they would find “interesting,” according to Heater. “You have to take into account who your readership is and why those readers are reading your site.”