TechCrunch, Forbes and others say building relationships is key. Also, startups should make an effort to think like a reporter
Pitching to the media can be a nightmare. Spray-and-pray emails, PR firms can be too expensive for many small companies and it is hit or miss if they will come to that badass launch party.
So what is a founder to do? Some of the most recognisable names in the tech media world gave us some advice.
Jon Russell, Writer, TechCrunch
The best relationships I have with founders are long-term. That means that we have ongoing discussions about industry topics, rumours, gossip, etc., as opposed to only getting in touch when they have news.
I generally reply to most emails that appear to have been sent personally to me because I appreciate it when someone has noticed the type of stories that I cover and sees a fit with their company or client. It is not hard to spot a copy/paste email sent to multiple media — they are fine for big companies, but I believe that startup founders should identify a handful of core media and get to know them… ideally before they have news. That makes the relationship a much healthier and reciprocal one.
Josh Steimle, Contributor, Forbes
Think like a journalist and offer something of value. Journalists want to write unique stories that readers find interesting. Are you giving the journalist exclusivity? Journalists don’t want to write the same story as someone else. Have you done something newsworthy? Like raising millions of dollars, or signing up a million customers? Can something about your startup tie in with current events? Do you have interesting data? An infographic?
Michael Tegos, Singapore Reporter, Tech In Asia
When pitching to the media, it’s important to remember one thing: you are probably one of many, many startups trying to reach out to us.
Sure, it’s part of our job to hear you out, but we can get overwhelmed pretty fast. So when I see a startup pitch, I need to be able to understand what the company is all about, ideally within the first paragraph – because there will probably be 10 similar emails in my inbox that morning. If that catches my attention, then I’ll move on to the details. If the concept of your startup is too hard to explain in such brevity, at least explain why I should take the time to dig deeper.
Journalists have seen a lot of startup ideas. And I mean, a lot. So when you want to reach out about your new instant messaging app that will give LINE and WhatsApp a run for their money, chances are we’ll roll our eyes at it. Instead, try explaining why you believe your idea has legs. Why did you choose to do a messaging app in the first place? What’s the plan behind it? That has a better chance of grabbing my attention than a subject line saying you came up with a ‘WeChat killer’.
And speaking of subject lines, those help too. Stick a quick but concise description in there, an idea of what I’ll get if I click on your email (important: do not make it clickbait-y). “Startup pitch” might be accurate, but it’s not terribly interesting when faced with a full inbox in the morning.
Looking forward to your pitches!
Joji Philip, Founder, DEALSTREETASIA
Startups that can pitch the fact that they have raised some level of funding — be it an angel round, seed, pre-seed, pre-Series A, Series A, etc. — will immediately have the journalist’s attention.
Secondly, startups that pitch they are bootstrapped, and have sustained themselves for a period of months or years will also attract attention.
As far as I am concerned, it is very difficult to pitch to journalists when the startup is at an ideation stage, has not hired a team, or the product is not ready and the company does not have investors in the venture.
If the funding angle is ruled out, then it has to be some great number that catches the journalist’s attention. For instance, we’ve had X million users, Y million downloads or Z million transactions, among others.
I’ve come across a lot of startups that send their pitch decks to journalists. Unlike VCs, I bet that most journalists do not have the technical expertise to analyse a pitch deck and projections in detail. Even if they have the expertise, almost all journos are too lazy to do that. So, my personal opinion is this strategy does not work.
Final point is from my experience with DEALSTREETASIA. We went to investors after the product was live for a year. We decided against going at the idea stage. [We felt] It would be great if potential investors can see and feel the product, see the traction, see the numbers.
It was a fully functional product, the team was in place, expansion plans were on track, and most importantly, the promoter, while bootstrapping, had put in a significant sum personally.
Even when pitching a story to journalists, they are more likely to be interested if they know that the promoters so strongly believe in [the company] that they’ve invested everything into the venture.
Michael de Waal-Montgomery, Writer, VentureBeat
Get to know the journalist and build a relationship before you come to announce something. Plan ahead. That way, when it’s time to announce something, they’ll already be familiar with you. But every journalist works differently, so admittedly it might not be easy to meet with them all. Some are more open, whilst others are more private. Focus on the journalists that seem to be open and available to you, even if they’re from smaller publications. A ‘small’ journalist today may be a ‘big’ journalist tomorrow.
If at first you don’t hear back from an email or text, follow-up with a second, third and fourth attempt. Never be passive-aggressive. Just be polite, even if it feels like they’re blanking you. Sometimes they’re just forgetful and not good at managing all the email threads.
You’ll catch more flies with honey, anyway.
Liang Hwei Teh, Singapore Editor, Vulcan Post
It’s often easy for startups to get carried away by the process and the technology that they don’t see the story. The key is to always think about the audience you want to talk to and pitch to them. Be aware of whether your readers are investors, other entrepreneurs, snake people or an auntie and craft your pitch to cater to them. Journalists are just trying to make that connection.
Wendy Tang, Writer, AllChinaTech
In order to pitch your story to journalists effectively, it is important for you to understand the scope of the media outlet.
For instance, at AllChinaTech, we cover tech giants and startups from China to an English-speaking audience, so your story idea has to have a Chinese element in it. Also, it is good to follow the reporters from the media outlet to know what kind of stories he or she writes about. For example, I’m covering the local startup scene in Beijing, if you pitch me a story of a unique business model, it will instantly catch my attention.
Hannah Leung, Hong Kong Writer, e27
Some startups are concerned they cannot outsource communications to a PR agency. Having a PR team does not hurt if you have the budget, but it is not necessary. I sometimes prefer talking directly to the startup anyway. The best emails are fleshed out, honest and have interesting angles — it doesn’t matter who is sending them.
Generally, I appreciate honesty. Some startups think it is shameful to admit they have struggled. In meetings, they don’t acknowledge other companies are working on a similar concept, or that they have competitors, when that is obviously not true. (Anyone with Google can verify that!)
There is a difference between sticking to your agenda versus sounding arrogant. If you want to gain credibility, be real.
Photo credit: Yle archives
This piece originally published on e27