In the best case scenario, press coverage can help a startup become better known among wider audiences, lead to new users or investors and foster growth. In the worst case scenario, it can tarnish your startup’s reputation and backtrack its progress.
If you want media coverage, the first question to ask yourself is, why? If you can’t answer that clearly, it probably means you should wait. Media coverage for media coverage’s sake (or to boost your own ego) is generally a waste of time and energy for everyone involved.
However, if you can make a good case about why people should care about your product launch, the problem you’re solving, a funding round or expansion plans and the timing is right and there’s a compelling story that goes with it, then keep on reading on what you should know about pitching it to the press.
Do your research and target specific publications
Not all press is created equal. And not every startup needs to be covered by TechCrunch. If you want to create awareness about your product among potential users and customers, think about what tech or trade publications these people would likely read. If you’re looking to raise funding, get a sense of where your ideal VCs are getting their tech news from.
“Think about the 10 media outlets that would influence your business the most,” said Tilo Bonow, founder and CEO of Piabo, a Berlin-based PR agency for startups and tech companies that has worked with the likes of Evernote, LinkedIn, Withings and Tinder, “It’s better to be focused on how to get their attention than taking the ‘spray and pray’ approach.”
Once you’ve created a list of potential publications to pitch, read them and get to know the stories they cover, article formats they run and people responsible for writing about the category you’re working in. “It definitely pays to read the tech press over a period of time and get to know the kind journalists that might write about a particular topic,” said Martin Bryant, Community Editor at Tech North and former Editor-in-Chief of The Next Web.
Tailor your pitches accordingly
Bryant, who spent a lot of time writing about European tech and startups at The Next Web and now focuses on telling stories about startups in the North of England, said one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is sending out a generic email to a lot of (irrelevant) press contacts and hoping for someone to respond.
“Individually tailored emails are much better, especially if you’re quite small and wanting your first coverage,” he added. Think about the person you’re writing to: How does your startup’s story relate to what they’ve covered before? Why should readers care? Does it relate to a larger trend? Why now?
Build relationships with the press way before you want coverage
There’s massive value in engaging with journalists well in advance before you have any kind of story to pitch them, Bryant revealed. This can mean getting on their radar through interactions on social media or – even better – in person at events or conferences. “There were many times when someone I met briefly at a conference emailed me six months later with a story and it just sparked a familiarity in my brain,” he explained, “It means you’re not coming to this email completely cold and have something to relate it back to, which can be useful.”
Bonow also emphasized that a personal connection with the media can make a difference. “It’s really important that founders and entrepreneurs build relationships with journalists at events and meetups,” he said, “And it’s more about quality than quantity.”
Be clear and concise in your email pitch
In case you didn’t know, editors and journalists are inundated with emails every single day. That’s why you need to be strategic and try to stand out from the crowd. That’s why having some kind of contact before or a referral always helps. Regardless of whether you have one or not though, it’s critical to be clear and succinct in your email pitch.
“If you’re getting in touch cold, give journalists enough useful information so that they want to know more, but don’t be so vague that it becomes a kind of click bait tease,” said Bryant. It’s about trying to catch the journalist’s attention enough so they’ll drop you a line to request for more details.
Oftentimes – and understandably so – entrepreneurs become so involved in what they’re working on that they fall down the trap of selling themselves as the ‘most innovative’, ‘disruptive’ and ‘game-changing’ startup out there. The problem is that these terms are so hackneyed they mean nothing to journalists anymore. To counter this kind of pitching, offer something concrete and substantial when talking about your product or service. “Data can give very interesting insights into a market and can also be used in the form of an infographic or study,” advised Bonow.
How to press release
There are a lot of mixed opinions about press releases in the tech world. Some people love to send them, others love to hate them. Bonow is weary of startups who think public relations equates to press releases. “Startups don’t always need to have a press release,” he explained adamantly, “Sometimes you just need a nice email with some bullet points and key facts and then to invite a journalist to talk more about it over coffee or invite them to sample a product in person.”
Press releases can still be practical in this day and age though. It can be a way for companies to communicate their story in their own way and to have all the basic information for journalists in once place. Generally, though if journalists want to cover your startup, they’ll use the press release as a starting point and then follow-up with more questions, said Bryant.
“I wouldn’t necessarily send press releases to journalists cold,” Bryant said, “Instead, you might want to send a short email saying, ‘Hi, we’re announcing some news next week. We’re Foursquare for Dogs and we’re expanding into a much bigger market and have some funding to announce.’ Would you like to know more? And if they do, then you can send the whole press release.”