You’re about ready to launch a new company. Or, your startup is on the verge of a major update or (what you consider) newsworthy announcement. Or, you’re a PR pro charged with securing positive editorial coverage for a startup client.
Not sure where to start? Well, this post is for you!
Media relations is a key element of the startup PR toolkit; however, it’s also an aspect that many startup founders don’t think about early enough. Similarly, they don’t realize how hard it can be to pique the attention of writers covering their industry. Erica Swallow, a tech journalist and Startup PR instructor is here to help. She offers an incredibly valuable perspective, as both a reporter (published in Forbes, Mashable, CNN and Entrepreneur) and a startup co-founder (her company: Deliverish, a peer-to-peer local delivery marketplace). Read on for Erica’s advice and tips.
1. What are some of the biggest mistakes startups make when working with journalists?
Startup entrepreneurs come into pitches with passion and intellect — two valuable assets that are often lacking when journalists deal with publicists — but they make a number of unnecessary mistakes, the first of which is sending lengthy emails.
Entrepreneurs get excited about every single detail of their companies and tend to lose site of the “story” as a journalist might see it. They list product features, teammate details, launch schedules, all kinds of information that usually overkill for an introductory email. I recommend that founders try to cap their emails at about three sentences:
– One sentence that explains the reason for the email
– One sentence that describes the startup, what it does, and who it’s for
– One sentence that suggests next steps, such as meeting up for coffee or sending a formal press release
That last sentence brings me to the next issue entrepreneurs often have: They don’t clearly define next steps for the relationship. Entrepreneurs often seem timid or skittish via email. They say things like, “Would you maybe want to think about covering us?” That’s a horrible way to come across to a journalist! Or, if they’re suggesting a meeting, for example, they just aren’t clear about when they’re available. They make open suggestions like, “You wanna meet up in the next two weeks to chat?” No, you should say, “Would you be free on Tuesday to meet up for a coffee?” Make it easy for them to say yes.
And lastly, entrepreneurs generally fail at making it easy for journalists to say yes. They not only miss the boat on next steps, but they also miss the boat on how to explain their startups. When they should be giving a one-sentence pitch, they spend three paragraphs trying to explain what exactly it is that they do. If the entrepreneur doesn’t understand and can’t be concise, the concept will be totally lost on the journalist.
2. What’s the fastest way startups can build relationships with journalists?
Startup founders should start creating press lists early on, deciding which journalists cover their industry — that way, they can create Twitter lists or RSS feeds of their target journalists and get a feel for the type of writing they do.
I recommend engaging with journalists on Twitter as an early form of making contact. Once a startup has a general idea, in person meetings are key for making real connections.
By all means, engage with journalists about their industry coverage in a genuine way as much as possible, whether that’s via comments on their posts, tweet responses, or quick emails. These are all good ways to stay on a journalist’s radar.
3. What makes something newsworthy/pitch-worthy? How should startups gauge how long a pitch should be?
A piece of news is pitch-worthy if it appeals to a particular audience. If you can craft a compelling and genuine argument for why a particular publication’s audience would find a piece of news interesting, you’re halfway finished. Newsworthy items can include the startup’s launch, a new product offering, the release of an interesting study or data, how the company is involved in a current event, or news of a high profile partnership.
And again, I subscribe to the idea that all initial pitches should be about three sentences in length, so that the journalist can easily read and respond if interested. Attaching or linking to a more descriptive press release or media kit is typically a good call as well.
4. You’ve sent the pitch, now what? (What should startups expect/be prepared for after sending the pitch?) What is appropriate follow-up protocol?
Once a pitch is sent, entrepreneurs shouldn’t necessarily have any expectations, though, of course, a response is ideal. Responses really depend on how relevant your pitches are. If after three or four days, a journalist hasn’t responded, it’s kosher to send a quick follow-up. I loathe anything that’s typical, such as the usual follow-up email I receive from publicists: “Hey, just wanted to follow up and see if you got my email.”
Try to be original. Maybe a new study regarding the topic of the piece has been published? Or perhaps the startup founders just got awarded a cool honor? Or maybe you saw the journalist tweet something awesome? There are so many ways to follow-up. It all comes down to being genuine.
Pro tip: Treat journalists like they’re humans. Following this little tip alone can get you so far!
5. Which social media networks are the best platforms for corresponding with relevant journalist?
Twitter, hands down, is the best social network for chatting up journalists. Many journalists are quite active on Twitter, posting relevant industry news and their own articles. Follow them and join in on the conversation.
And while you’re at it, check out MuckRack Newsroom, a real-time feed of the news that is most popular among journalists on Twitter. I check MuckRack Newsroom daily to see what my colleagues are most interested in. It’s a super fun tool, too, because you can see exactly what each person is tweeting about a given piece of news, and then retweet or respond easily from MuckRack’s interface.
LinkedIn, too, isn’t a bad place to connect with journalists if you’re able to message them before connecting. Remember, it’s not cool to connect with people you don’t know.
And lastly, I don’t recommend messaging journalists on Facebook. I get an occasional Facebook pitch, and it’s just annoying. There are so many places to find me on the Internet – I question a person’s savvy when they decide to pitch through Facebook, the network that is decidedly the most personal, not professional, of networks.