The media is a key point of contact for the marketing team of any startup. As a tech journalist and freelance writer, I talk to hundreds of SMEs, startups, fortune 500 companies, investors and industry experts every year. I receive thousands of press releases and invitations to events and conferences. Many businesses do themselves and their product a real disservice meaning we can't or won't write about them. Let's walk through some of the most common mistakes so you can avoid them:
You pitch us too early
Did you ever get burnt by funding a product on Kickstarter that never eventuated? Imagine writing about products and then discovered they were absolute turkeys or plain old fraudulent (Theranos, anyone?). This is what we don't want. Sure it's chicken and egg, you want media attention to get those early angel investors and pre-bookings, but writing about something that might happen, where there's not even a basic prototype, is not that credible - especially if there's a product already on the market that is successful and not that different from yours. If I google "invisibility cloak" and there's one company saying they are going to make one, and one that already has, I know what I would preference without anything else to go on.
Help us tell your story
Journalists are story tellers. We want to engage and interest our readers with compelling content. Give us the basics with some of the most interesting points and we're more likely to dig deep. We don't need a thesis. Think about answering these questions with a sentence or two for each:
- Who are you?
- What’s your product/event?
- What problem does it solve?
- Who are your competitors? (Don’t say you have no competitors; we check)
- What’s your point of difference to them?
- Why should we write about this now? (Maybe there's been some research released or you've won an award?)
I know everyone has been told to keep it short. But I now get emails that say, "I know a startup that you might be interested in the X space, can I send you an email?" It's a pain and involves pointless back and forth, none of which I get paid for. If you need to send something a bit longer to email your product, go for it in the first instance, just break it down with some sub-headings and dot points. I do this myself when I pitch to editors.
These days, there's no budget for a photographer. So we rely on you for high quality photos. If you only have photos with your logo or photos of your founders and not your product, it's of no help. Don't make them ridiculously large or we spend all our time editing them to be able up loading them to our content platforms. Or you'll end up with an article with crappy stock images.
Don’t jump on the bandwagon needlessly
You've probably been told to research journalists who already write about your product or area of business. Great idea! But if I published an article about say, "5 clean tech startups in smart cities", I'm not going to do another one the week after. Nor will sending me an email saying "I see you wrote about X, I make one of those too, perhaps you could edit your piece to include it?" No, that's not how it works, even if you offer me money (true story).
Look, it's perfectly fine to introduce yourself and offer to meet with us at a conference we're visiting. Maybe you have a point of difference to the those startups featured or disagree hugely with a point we made? Offer a different perspective or angle or the story and we just might revisit it in the future.
Don’t be too expansive
You’ve got an event/launch/crowdfunding campaign or product launch coming up. You send an email to every journalist you can find not to mention tweeting at them and a message on Facebook and LinkedIn. This will ensure that no one will work with you again.
If you’re offering the same information to everyone, then you’re not offering us anything unique or exclusive. Be selective, or at least give it a few days before going to the next person. And curate your list thoughtfully. If someone only writes about SaaS, they don't want to know about your coding for kids robot.
Don’t stalk us
I’ve had PR people and businesses send me daily emails wanting to know when I piece will be published. I've had personal Instagram follows, and people sending me messages on LinkedIn asking me to follow their personal Instagram account (seriously, who does that?)
I'm not ignoring you, it's that I. Don't. Know. I have no control of publication dates. Sometimes an editor will refuse a piece for reasons they are unable to share like deals with advertisers or competitors that provide sponsored content. (As readers expect online content for free, this is just the way it goes).
That said, it’s ok to politely enquire when the piece will go to press. Keep us updated with your progress in case we are able to freshen up the article before it goes to press a few weeks/months later. But don't make us regret having made contact in their first place.
Don’t email us every week
We might have written about your first product but it doesn’t mean we’re in a position to write about every single update. Think about how else you can stay relevant and on our radar.
Build an ongoing relationship
As journalists we’re genuinely passionate about what we do, even though we don't get paid very much. Whilst we may not be experts on the minutiae of every topic we cover, we do talk to lots of people every day, and thus we’re in a great position to champion you and your cause to others if you impress us.
Whilst we can’t necessarily write about the same topic twice, we’re always looking for trend analysis, commentary on topical issues (especially if you can offer a solution or different perspective), end of year wrap ups and predictions into the following year.Make it easy for us by offering your expertise.
Show the love when the piece of published
When I write a piece, I'll share it on social media and @ the company mentioned on Twitter and LinkedIn. Most journos I know do this. It irks us if said company fails to share the article (or likes our tweet but doesn't RT). if we've made an error like spelling your name wrong or misquoted you, tell us, we can usually fix it in seconds if it's published online. But as we rely on likes and shares like anyone else in the media, radio silence is not great.
Being a journalist is a bit like being a perpetual student in that you constantly have pieces of writing due or overdue. We juggle many balls in the air and work on umpteen articles simultaneously. But we’re always on the looking for a great story so think how you can best ensure we hear yours.