February 21, 2003

How to Get Mentioned in San Jose Mercury News Biz Section

SUMMARY: More than a quarter of a million Silicon Valley businesspeople and residents read the San Jose Mercury News every day. Plus, lots of tech journalists from other publications scan the Mercury's stories for leads. Read our exclusive interview with the paper's Business Editor, David Satterfield, to hear how you can use this PR opportunity.
David Satterfield
Business Editor
San Jose Mercury News
750 Ridder Park Drive
San Jose, Calif., 95190
(408) 920-5352

-> Circulation:

Print newspaper is 280,000 daily; 310,000 on weekends

-> Satterfield’s background:

Satterfield graduated from the University of Notre Dame and got his Master’s from Northwestern's School of Journalism.

Previous to the San Jose Mercury News, he was at the Miami Herald for 17 years, where he worked first as a reporter, then as City Editor, and then for four years as the paper’s Business Editor. He has been Business Editor at the Mercury News for two years.

“I’m a firm believer that business pages should provide lessons for companies,” Satterfield says. “What I look for is not just that a company’s doing well, but why they are doing well. What is a company doing that’s different?”

-> Current editorial coverage:

The paper has two main missions: To cover the diversity in the region and to cover technology. The business pages mainly focus on technology.

“Silicon Valley is a place of innovation and technology and we try to reflect that in our pages,” says Satterfield. “I wouldn’t say we only cover news in this geographical area. That’s our specialty, but we also pay attention to general news, say banking. There’s more news than we can actually cover, because there are 370 public companies in the valley.”

The paper focuses on the biggest companies, and those with the biggest brand names: Yahoo, eBay, Google, Cisco, HP. “But real estate is also huge in Silicon Valley, and we also cover personal finance, small business, and commercial real estate,” Satterfield says.

The business pages are almost entirely news except for one piece which tends to be a feature. “That’s a person’s opportunity to pitch a great story,” says Satterfield. “Otherwise, if it’s not news it’s not going to get in the paper.”

Another opportunity to get mentioned is in the promotions column which runs every day. The column focuses on new hires, promotions, “so-and-so moved here or there.” Send an email with a jpeg to svpeople@sjmercury.com.

Personal finance is covered on Sundays, and books are reviewed on Sunday. “Read the paper and learn what we do and don’t do,” Satterfield says. “We don’t do a lot of stuff on consumer products, for instance. If someone comes out with a new brand of soda, we’re not going to cover it.”

-> The best way to pitch Satterfield or his staff:

Pitch the appropriate person. Satterfield has about 25 reporters and eight assigning editors. Every Monday, the business section publishes a list of who covers what.

General Mercury News contacts for each department can be seen here

A listing of the full staff of Mercury News and MercuryNews.com, including phone numbers, email addresses, and departments is listed at:

Satterfield wants news, something that is breaking. “We look for earnings or product announcements,” he says. “We also care about personnel moves. We do not write about when someone gets a contract with someone else. Generally, I haven’t been overwhelmed by the quality of the pitches we get. We don’t see enough of, ‘hey, here’s someone who’s figured out how to do something new and different.’”

The best pitches, he says, are those that get inside a company and tell a story that can be useful for other companies. It may take a lot of work on the part of a PR person to come up with a great pitch, but it is worth it because it is likely to get coverage.

Email pitches are best. “The fax machine is an outdated technology,” says Satterfield. After you send your email, you can follow up with a phone call. Phone pitches are fine, too, if you keep it brief.

Biggest mistakes PR people make? “We’ve had phone calls from PR people who’ve asked if we cover technology,” Satterfield says. “Understand the audience, read the section, get a sense of what we do.”

Three more tips:

1. Let him get an inside look at things. “Companies are often reluctant to open up, and when we get a chance to get inside a company and see how things are done, we get excited. If you’ve got an employee who’s doing something phenomenal, runs marathons or climbs Mount Everest, but can also design a semi-conductor, we want to hear it. People like to read about people.”

2. When sending an email, put in the subject line what it is about and get to the point very quickly.

3. Pitch the specific reporter first—but if they shoot you down and you are still convinced you have a great story, go to their assigning editor, then go straight to Satterfield.

-> Deadlines:

The earlier in the day, the better. If it is later than 5:00 P.M. on the West Coast, it is tough to fit it in the next day’s news cycle.

-> Submitting pre-written contributions:

“We used to accept them, but not anymore,” says Satterfield. If you have something to submit, send it to the editorial pages.

-> Becoming a regular columnist:

No hope. They are swimming in columnists and are happy with all of them.

-> Where you can meet Satterfield:

“I’m open to getting together,” he says. “You can call and come by. One thing we like to do is sit down for half an hour or an hour with a CEO. We won’t necessarily write a story, but we like to get to know people, know who’s out there, particularly with the smaller companies.”

Satterfield does not generally attend conferences, though he does go out and speak now and then (“but thankfully nothing currently”). He is not a big fan of “doing lunch,” he says. He is a morning guy. He would rather meet at his office early, say 9:30 or 10:00, than go for lunch.

-> What he looks for in printed press materials:

Anything that comes in “over the transom” probably will not get looked at. However, if you call and tell him you are sending a press kit, he will check it out. Otherwise, “email is the way to go until the next innovation, until they can beam it directly into my head.”

-> Favorite professional publication:

The Wall Street Journal.

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