Whether you love it or hate it, the key to securing media coverage for your startup is through pitching writers. One of the most common questions we get asked is “how do I get a writer’s attention?” or “how do I get a writer to write about my startup?” You might think it’s as easy as firing them off an email or picking up the phone. But the real secret is that the key to successfully pitching writers is doing it - without realizing you’re doing it.
When done properly, pitching journalists should just come naturally. When founders put too much thought into how to hook a writer or pitch their story to the masses, they tend to forget one simple thing: Journalists don’t want what everyone’s selling and they don’t want you to suck up to them.
We find that you become most successful in securing media coverage when you pitch naturally. This includes building relationships with writers prior to ever needing them to cover you. In an ideal world, if writers are acquaintances, pitching a story to them will never be pitching in the general sense of the word – it’s more of a ‘hey – I’m working on something cool, want me to hook you up?’ You’re not only doing them a favor – you’re suddenly getting yourself coverage without even really trying.
Of course, this is in an ideal world and unless your a PR pro, you don’t have a list of writers you routinely grab coffee with or email on a regular basis.
So how do you make friends with writers? It’s not an overnight process. And it spans over more than one unsuccessful pitch but we promise if you follow the rules below, you’ll be well on your way.
Rule #1 : Don’t Be The Norm
Ask yourself – how would most companies pitch this writer? Whatever answer you decide, do the opposite. Writers are pitched a hundred times a day and typically the pitch is always the same. What is your hook and why are you different won’t always cut it. Sometimes you need to just downright think like a journalist. We’re all guilty of it but avoid sentences like ‘I know you’re going to love this’ or ‘I think this is right up your alley.’ Get straight to the point and tell them why your startup is unique, why customers will buy your product and how your product is disrupting current trends. Don’t sugar coat it with flattery or BS. Journalists can smell it a mile away.
Rule #2: Don’t Try to Be Their Friend – Yet
If there’s one thing journalists hate, it’s when you act as if you’ve been friends forever and because of this, they just need to cover your story. While it’s important to dig up any relevant dirt that is needed to identify them as the right person for the job, it isn’t necessary to reveal to them that you know they’ve written twelve stories in the past year on e-commerce. They already know. They wrote them. If they’ve written a piece recently on a trend that you fit into, it’s OK to reference it but throwing in a subtle “loved your piece on the iPhone 5” when you’re about to pitch them on your new web-based travel platform is just counterproductive.
Rule #3: Don’t be Selfish
A journalist isn’t out to increase your conversion rates or lead generation. It’s their job to tell a story that their readers can benefit from and by remembering this, you are one step ahead of most. Don’t focus on the bells and whistles of your product – concentrate on how your product or service will benefit their readers. If you’ve got a great product, the rest will follow naturally but if you come across as desperate for sales when pitching media, you’re going to get shot down.
Rule #4: Don’t Make it Hard for Them to Cover You
Always being prepared goes way beyond the Boy Scout motto. If you are planning to pitch media leading up to a launch or company milestone, always have the necessary resources available should journalists ask for it. This includes an up-to-date media release and a media kit with appropriate assets such as founder bios and photos, one pager/fact sheet and product images/logos. Be available for interviews and answer all email inquiries in a timely manner.
Rule #5: Don’t Only Reach Out When You Need Something
Build relationships with writers before you need something from them. Start following them on Twitter. Engage with them about other articles they’ve written or comments they’ve made. Email them simply to introduce yourself and ask for nothing in return. We think that this step is one of the most important as it allows you to build a relationship with the writer without asking for anything in return. If you’ve gotten into the habit of tweeting your thoughts back and forth over the past few episodes of Dexter, they know you as more than just a story pitch. Congrats. You’ve become one level up from just another pitch in their inbox. It may not be enough to get the story covered but it will ensure your email gets noticed.