SiliconANGLE’s Paul Gillin on Covering IT Over the Years and the Hottest Cloud Trend

Paul Gillin has a storied past as a tech journalist. He spent his early days covering stalwarts like IBM and Microsoft, and companies like Borland and Lotus, which those of us who were around in the pre-internet days may remember with fondness. But he’s also a man of the moment, an expert in social media marketing. He’s written four books on the topic, as well as one on Geocaching, the use of GPS for treasure hunts.

Today he’s covering one of the most important areas of tech—cloud infrastructure—as enterprise editor for SiliconANGLE and offers social media marketing consulting through Paul Gillin Communications. On the side, Paul has been chronicling the demise of journalism outlets at newspaperdeathwatch.com for the past 15 years. We thought we’d check in with Paul about how he got his start, what he expects from PR pitches, and the hottest topic on his radar right now. 

You graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and started covering technology as a journalist for Ziff Davis back in the 1980s. That’s a long time on the beat. Can you tell me more about your career path?

I didn’t plan it like that. I went from Ziff Davis to Computerworld and, when I left Computerworld in 1999, I went to work at a startup as the fifth employee at TechTarget. I did that for six years as editor-in-chief and I built the editorial operation up to 75 people.

Then, I was promoted to my level of incompetence (his wry sense of humor coming out). I was made a publisher, put in charge of sales, and was given a quota. I hated it and I was terrible at it. After 18 months, I got fired, but it was not an unfortunate event—it was a relief to get out of that job. I then moved on to long-form journalism and doing a variety of tech content.  

In 2006, I stumbled into social media and saw it was going to be a huge force. For six or seven years, I focused on social media, marketing, consulting and speaking and wrote five books about social media and online communities. It’s a topic that fascinated me. But that business disappeared eventually, primarily because agencies came in and took it away. I was prepared to return to my roots in technology and transition back into doing what I'm doing now. I have been self-employed now for almost 17 years, with the last eight or nine years focused on my origins in IT media. 

You’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in the tech industry. How is the current downturn affecting your business?

Business has been steady; in fact 2020 was the best year I ever had. The pandemic was great for my business, primarily because a lot of money moved out of events and into custom content. That’s changing as budgets get more dispersed again. I work mostly with content operations that take care of IT customers—and demand there is high. IT customers haven't seen a big impact from the economic downturn, at least not yet. Business has a way of coming back. And there’s still a lot of VC money out there. 

Journalism is a tough business right now, with the number and quality of news sources shrinking. Publishers have been cutting back for a decade. Journalism is more a labor of love than it has ever been; you don’t get rich. You’ve got to specialize. There's no good career path forward for general assignment reporters unless you’re lucky.

IT has been my area and it’s been good. Also, there’s a lot of work in cybersecurity. It’s probably one-third of the independent custom content I do. It’s the fastest-growing area of IT right now. Security is such a terrible problem that there seems to be no end to the amount of money companies are willing to spend on it.

<split-lines>"Journalism is more a labor of love than it has ever been; you don’t get rich. You’ve got to specialize..."<split-lines>

Do you do freelance writing?

I’ve been on retainer for eight years at SiliconANGLE where I cover news, mainly features. 

I also work for other clients doing contract content, including IDG (now known as Foundry); TechTarget; Data Center Frontier; and Skyword, a content house for blogs for tech clients; as well as individual clients like Hypertec, Wasabi and Iron Mountain. I cover a fairly wide swath of topics, although I don’t include software code in my work. I have my limits.

What do you look for in contributed content?

We don’t accept much contributed content at SiliconANGLE. If you want to make a pitch, we’re open to it but the angle has to be new. You’d be amazed how often I get pitched on the same topics.

Are you and your colleagues at SiliconANGLE open to product news or customer stories?

Yes, but we receive about 50 to 60 pitches a day and often get multiple pitches for the same story. I don’t mind follow-ups, but when a PR person pitches me for the fourth time, that’s going too far. We also can’t possibly respond to every pitch. If you don’t get a response, you should consider that a response. 

What are you most looking for?

Cloud computing, data analytics and infrastructure, particularly software-defined infrastructure. I love software. I’m pretty good at networking, hardware less so, and I’m interested in understanding how data centers are evolving and how corporations are putting IT strategies into place.

We’re always keen to look into emerging technology. AI is an obvious example. So are blockchain, low-code/no-code development tools, robotics and technology to support remote work.

How do you best like to work with PR agencies?

Keep pitches brief, minimize background, get to the point in the first graph and keep it to three graphs or less. Say why your pitch is important and, most important of all, make it relevant to our audience—IT professionals. This in terms of the problems they’re having and what your client is doing to solve those problems. It always helps to include background research that establishes a need for your client’s products and services.

What’s the biggest mistake PR people make? I get pitched on the same stuff all the time—stories that have been done to death, and I can’t understand why they're pitching it again because everyone has already covered it. Occasionally we’ll get a pitch from a company that’s willing to take a controversial stand and challenge the conventional wisdom. Those get our attention but they’re rare as hen’s teeth.

<split-lines>"What’s the biggest mistake PR people make? I get pitched on the same stuff all the time—stories that have been done to death."<split-lines>

Anything else?

We’re very focused on cloud at SiliconANGLE and looking at a concept called the ‘Supercloud’—cloud services or apps that span multiple platforms. That’s the mega-trend in the cloud business right now. If PR agencies have clients who can speak to how customers are using multiple clouds or stitching them together, I’d be interested in that.

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