Pitching

The 7 story types reporters want to write about

 

  When you're pitching reporters it's important to know what reporters are looking to write about. When pitched, reporters try to put your article into one of seven newsworthy categories. If they don't think it's newsworthy, they likely won't write about it.

Here's the seven story types:

  1. Company launch
  2. Funding announcement
  3. Metrics/Milestone
  4. Founder story
  5. Product launch/major update
  6. Partnership
  7. Trend story

Company launch

This is one of the more difficult stories to get coverage for. It helps if the founders are particularly notable or the solution is groundbreaking. The proper way to promote a company launch is exactly when the product is available to the general public. You can certainly do a company launch earlier (during a closed beta and have a signup list like Coin recently did). Make sure you don't reach out to press to cover a company launch a few weeks or a few months after the product is publicly available. By then, reporters treat it as old news.

Funding announcement

This is the most straightforward type of story and the one that is reporters don't really enjoy covering. I've had reporters tell me that unless your company raises over $10 million then your funding is not news. They said too many startups are raising $3-5 million to make solely a funding announcement newsworthy. To ensure coverage of your funding announcement you might want to lump in a funding announcement with other news, like a prominent hire, a product refresh or a metrics milestone.

Metrics/Milestone

The "so what?" behind this is to demonstrate a company has traction and is thereby newsworthy. Max Levchin's announcement that the Glow app had been used to create 1000 pregnancies is a unconventional type of announcement in many ways, but still fits the mold. Usually metrics are around installs, MAU/DAU, or revenue. There are other types of milestones, however. One popular milestone is making a key hire. Clinkle and Snapchat recently announced key hires poached from bigger, more established companies.

Founder story

This is a softer approach that can work if you have a very unique founder or founding story. Paying $2000 to meet with Richard Branson and then getting him to invest in your company qualifies. So does a miraculous survival from being run over by a car.

Product launch/major update

Announcing a new product or a major update to existing product. This is a probably the most likely way for a startup to get press. Maybe moving beyond your MVP or launching a 2.0 version or bringing a new product under the umbrella.

Partnership

Did you team with Comcast to bring learning to low income families like the Khan Academy? That's newsworthy. The important aspects of the newsworthiness is the partner and the type of the relationship. Companies have faked a simple integration and made it into a product announcement, but that's a great way to ruin your relationship with the press (read the update). Focus on what the partnership does for users and how it validates your company.

Trend Story The rise of BYOD in the enterprise. The popularity of ephemeral messaging apps. There will always be trends that the press love. Chances are you can tie your startup in with one, just make sure that it's a real trend.

In the end, it's important to focus on what's newsworthy about your company and to answer the "so what?" question.

If you're looking to get press, but don't think you have the time to do all the PR work yourself, sign up for the PressFriendly beta, we make PR simple.

How to pitch reporters via email

Top reporters receive ~300 pitches/day via email. When your pitch is part of a group that large it's easy to skip if anything is bland or unclear. The odds are against you, but taking some time to refine your message will improve your chances.

What to include.

Try to cover all of these points while keeping your email as short as possible.

Why is [reporter] a good fit for this story?

"You wrote about Tacocopter and we're also a drone-based food delivery service". You cannot substitute compliments for facts here, the fact that you liked reading one of their articles doesn't make them more likely to write about you.

 

What/Why should [reporter] write about you?

Summarize the basis for the story including what is so different about your company that it's newsworthy. Launching a new food delivery company is not news but launching a company that delivers food via drones is.

Proof that you're on your way

Funding, user metrics, and previous founder success are all fine. Anything that shows you're growing. Keep these concise. I recommend a bulleted list.

A brief description of the company

The goal here is to make sure they understand exactly what you do, be as clear as possible.

Angle / substory

Alternate stories that aren't your primary message but are still interesting. eg: Company was named after the founders dog; Each car-sharing vehicle replaces an average of 15 private vehicles on the road.

Product description

A one paragraph (ish) description of what problem you're solving and how you're solving it.

Take aways

Crafting a pitch is an important step that a lot of people neglect. Put more time into it and be more successful.

Don't ever call me (and other PR tips from reporters)

PR people, please PLEASE PLEASE stop "calling to follow up on an email” PLEASE

— Jordan Crook (@jordanrcrook)

February 4, 2014

 One of the hard and fast rules of pitching reporters is that it seems there are no hard and fast rules of pitching a reporter. A reporter may complain about getting phone calls one one hand and then write a paean to being virtually stalked EXACTLY a month later.

if you feel you can walk the line between annoying and effective, listen up http://t.co/YpQ57SiwXk

— Jordan Crook (@jordanrcrook)

March 4, 2014

 So it's no surprise that pitching the media is excruciatingly frustrating for anyone who does it, whether they are founders, agencies or consultants.

In our short month since launch, we've talked with over 250 entrepreneurs about press outreach and we've shared with with them our simple approach. We've also told them we DO have some hard and fast rules about press outreach that go beyond PR tips and that we will release them as customers if they violate them.

Rule #1: No Phone Calls

Calls working journalist at 4:30 -- Is now a good time?

— Michael Learmonth (@learmonth)

January 30, 2014

 

Least effective PR tactic: Leave entire 2-minute pitch on voicemail.

— Matt Rosoff (@MattRosoff)

January 21, 2014

 

PR people: If your boss tells you to “follow up” on a pitch with a phone call your boss is 100% wrong.

— Steve Kovach (@stevekovach)

November 8, 2013

 

 Reporters have hard jobs. They have to be creative and be on a deadline. Very few of us deal with this on a daily basis. They also have to deal with editors and manage sources. As a result, they probably pay more attention to their phones more than most of us at work. So don't call them. Of course, they can call you or ask you to call them, but please never call a reporter unsolicited, even if you have an existing relationship.

‘Don’t call. You can email, but if I don’t respond it’s because I’m not interested. The ONLY time you should call is if I call you first.'

— Ryan Lawler (@ryanlawler)

November 12, 2013

 Rule #2: Don't @Reply, DM or PM or INMail

 

@sarahcuda Hi, Sarah! What number can I dial to contact someone @ Mashable Brand Lab?

— Rocio del Moral (@rodelmo)

November 22, 2013

@sarahcuda It's me again! #weirdtweetsoftheday how can we get in touch to publish a piece on PandoDaily for a client of ours?

— Rocio del Moral (@rodelmo)

November 23, 2013

 

GO AWAY RT @roelandp@ryanlawler im starting this bitcoin exchange site, let me tell you about it:

— Ryan Lawler (@ryanlawler)

November 12, 2013

 

ugh someone just DM pitched me

— ಠ_ಠ (@MikeIsaac)

October 15, 2013

 This is simple and straightforward. Don't friend a reporter on Facebook with the intention of sending them a PM. Same for LinkedIn. You're not being clever when you Snap or calendar invite as a pitch, you're just being a pain in the ass. We encourage our customers to follow reporters on their beat on Twitter and @ reply when there's a topic of interest or to answer a question. But don't ever @reply to get their attention. Reporters get 300 emails a day, wouldn't it ruin Twitter for them if they got 300 @reply pleas to read a pitch. Just don't do it.

Rule #3: Give Email Time

in case you're wondering, no i haven't read your email. and i probably won't until late tonight/tom. use smoke signals instead.

— Sarah Perez (@sarahintampa)

January 22, 2014

 Email is the best way to get ahold of a reporter (with certain exceptions). It works, but it doesn't work immediately. Always leave enough time before your announcement to email the reporter and have one follow-up. One follow-up should suffice. We may be less aggressive in our approach than others, but we aim to be as respectful as possible and live up to our name and be "press friendly." Remember, as a founder you want to build relationships with reporters so that they'll cover you as your company grows. A little respect can go a long way.

me: feel free to send details. email #1: here you go! email #2, hours later: did you get it??? email #3: hey, did you get it?? -- me: uggghh

— Sarah Perez (@sarahintampa)

December 3, 2013

 The first email should be the pitch, usually 7-14 days before you'd like the coverage to hit. If you don't get a response, send a second email 3 days out as a reminder along with a note that you'd like a response within 24 hours or you'll take your news somewhere else. In many cases the reporter will respond one way or another to this email. Any more emails and you are essentially wasting your time and theirs and are a spammer.

Hey, PR folks: If I don't cover your product the first couple of times you email me, chances are I'm going to ignore your 30 followups too.

— Peter Cohen (@flargh)

August 13, 2013

 Rule #4: No mass emails

A new low for clueless PR: Calling to follow up on unsolicited, bulk email sent an hour previously.

— Tom Simonite (@tsimonite)

October 18, 2013

PressFriendly does not let its customers spray and pray. We purposely create smaller email lists than other lists providers. Our average list is about 30-40 publications with multiple reporters at some publications. The reason that so many people send mass emails is that they don't know who's interested in the story. Probably the best thing about PressFriendly is that we use machine learning to match the pitch to the right reporter using their reporter archives. So we're providing media lists that don't waste the time of founders and reporters.

By promoting a few simple rules for press outreach, we hope to make life a little simpler and saner for reporters. We hope that in kind, they respect our approach and look kindly upon founders who respect their time and email them with tailored pitches.

What startups need to know about embargoes

Pitch subject line: "Embargo opportunity!" It's an opportunity!

— Farhad Manjoo (@fmanjoo)

November 14, 2013

There are few things more confusing for startups navigating a press launch than the matter of embargoes. Startups should be spending their time focusing on shipping product and supporting current users, so we’re trying to simplify things and tell you the 4 things startups need to know about press embargoes.

1) Embargoes have a purpose

Want to see a smart PR blitz? Check out the stories right now abt BuzzFeed. AdWeek & NYT get embargo stories. Then, press release goes out.

— Josh Sternberg (@joshsternberg)

January 3, 2013

 The primary reason that embargoes exist is for you to get maximum coverage for your launch/announcement all live at one precise moment. If you don’t have an announcement and instead are pitching a trend piece or founder profile (essentially anything that is not attached to a moment in time), an embargo is not appropriate. Embargoes are usually used to get as many outlets as possible to cover you, but they also come into play when announcing partnerships or new hires. Startups favor embargoes, because it makes it easier to get coverage in multiple publications. If you get covered in a major industry publication, many other reporters will pass when being presented the story a few days later. This brings us to the second point…

2) Reporters don't like embargoes

Dear PR people, you do know how much our heart sinks when we see the word “embargo”, yes?

— Felix Salmon (@felixsalmon)

December 10, 2013

 There’s a number of reasons that reporters don’t like embargoes. For one, keeping track of which news launches when adds complexity to their already hectic day. It can also throw off their publishing schedule, which means you’re going to make their editor mad too. Second, embargoes go against their news gathering instincts. They want the scoop. They want an exclusive. They’re reporters who enjoy tracking down stories and sources rather than being told when to publish an article. Which brings us to the third point…

3) Embargoes are a fact of life

If your pr team tells you not to pre-brief techcrunch because we ‘have a no-embargo policy’ you should fire them immediately.

— Ryan Lawler (@ryanlawler)

March 6, 2014

  Famously, Mike Arrington said “Death to the embargo.” That was five and half years ago and the embargo is still here and probably isn’t going away anytime soon. But I’ve talked to dozens of startups who are still under the impression that embargoes are routinely broken by reporters. This simply is not the case. Embargoed news goes out every day and the only time you hear about it is when someone jumps the gun. Reporters can also benefit from embargoes, because they get to be briefed ahead of time and have more time to think about the story and ask follow-up questions.

So if you want to do an embargo, there's one golden rule that needs to be followed.

4) Embargoes should not be taken for granted

 

Reminder to PR peeps: You emailing me something unsolicited "under embargo" does not mean I have accepted said embargo. That is all.

— Chris O'Brien (@obrien)

September 5, 2013

 

A lot of PR people don't seem to understand how embargoes work; I have to agree to the embargo, you can't imply it.

— Mike Wehner (@MikeWehner)

January 7, 2014

 Reporters are doing you a favor when they agree to an embargo. Don’t write to them under the assumption that they will accept it. You want to be “press friendly” and respectful of their needs and schedule. Be polite and straight forward. Say that you are announcing news (funding, new product, partnership, etc.), but don’t give too many specifics. Ask them for a pre-brief to tell them more. Also be sure to tell them that there is a specific launch date. Don’t harp on having them agree to an embargo, just be straightforward about when you are announcing the news. They might ask you if there’s an embargo, but we’ve never had an issue with a reporter and setting a launch date/time. Be straight-forward and respectful and they’ll return the favor.

Embargoes are a fact of life. Follow a few simple rules and you can use them to your advantage.

Choosing an angle for your story

Your first thought when you wake up is about your company. Your last thought before you fall asleep is about your company. This is what you eat, sleep and breathe. Conveying that passion to reporters is an important part of your communications strategy, but finding the best ways to convey this passion is sometimes difficult

When you are writing a pitch for the press, you must keep your audience in mind. Reporters are sensitive to the key-performance-indicators of user engagement and page views, but they also want to tell a story that's authentic. No news-outlet wants to copy-paste marketing literature to their readership, but they will gladly print a story if it has a compelling angle that helps tell the story of technology

Don’t Try to Sell!

Even though the purpose of your public relations push is, ostensibly, to bring in revenue for your company through increased attention and sales, your outreach to reporters isn’t a time to sell to consumers. Reporters are experts at seeing through sales pitches, and they expect a little more from an article that is going to be published in a major outlet.

Appeal to Emotions

Even if your facts are singularly compelling, they don’t make for an interesting story when they are laid out without context or emotional appeal. A powerful angle plays on the emotions of your readers, while still being honest and forthright. At the same time, overly dramatic appeals to emotion that are not backed up with fact – like the scare-mongering crime statistics used in some home security company ads – can turn your audience off and decrease the reliability of your brand message.

Finding your Angle

Let’s imagine a startup that has created a mobile application that allows farmer’s market customers to remotely order from their favorite vendors so their orders are waiting for them when they show up to the market. There's basically four types of angles that you can develop.

1. How does your technology help your audience?

  • The Town of Greensboro, NC used Appiculture to network their local farmer’s market to more than 10,000 local consumers. Surveyed farmers claimed that the app has led to 20% increases in their sales, and a 50% increase in repeat business.
  • By using Appiculture, customers are able to increase the amount of fresh produce in their diets without relying on GMO and off-season produce from their supermarkets.
  • The average user of apiculture saves more than two hours every week by ordering produce ahead of time before arriving at the farmer’s market for pickup.

2. Interesting Facts

  • Farmers on Appiculture make an average of $41,000 during the typical season
  • Farmers markets in the United States supply almost 20% of the fresh produce consumed by the American household.

3. Future Plans

Remember, when you use future-plan information in your pitches, you must only include publically available information (or information that you want to become public) since you should never send undisclosable information to media outlets to avoid unnecessarily complicating your media requests.

  • Starting in 2015, Appiculture will be opening its membership to flea markets in two test cities – with plans to open up to craft markets and flea markets nationwide by 2016.
  • Appiculture hired more than fifteen new developers in 2014, with plans to expand to a new headquarters in Duluth, MN in Q3. Validation from Market/Competitors
  • The United States Department of Agriculture claims that more than 38 new farmer’s markets have opened up this year, primarily in the Pacific Northwest. (Appiculture)

4. Interesting Background of Investors or Founders

  • Bob Smith, founder of Appiculture, initially created the app to serve the 30 members of his own CSA – but he realized the potential in the broader national market after being contacted by dozens of other local farmers to license the app platform.

What Makes a Great Angle?

The best angles for Startup PR are the ones that immediately relate the startup to an existing problem that is faced by the readers of the publication.

For example, there are some problems that nearly everyone faces – making the pitch very compelling. Even if your startup does something relatively obscure, find a way to relate the benefits of your product to customers by explaining how it could reduce stress, reduce environmental impact, etc. Think about what motivates you every day and see if you can take that passion and funnel it into your pitch.

Should you offer an exclusive?

Startups frequently ask us, "Should I offer so-and-so an exclusive?" While there's no right answer to this question, there are many things for you to consider when making your decision.

Pros

  • Exclusives save you time. By focusing on one writer or one publication, you don't need to worry about developing a large media list or coordinating an embargo. You take your story to a reporter to publication and allow them to handle the coverage so you can focus on other aspects of your business.

  • Exclusives allow you to build relationships. While you’re not reaching out to a huge press list, an exclusive means you’re developing a stronger relationship with the reporter to whom you’re offering the exclusive. This is particularly valuable with a high-profile reporter, and in the future, they’ll be more receptive to giving you coverage.

  • Exclusives ensure you’ll be heard. Rather than pitching to multiple outlets and having your news get lost in the media fray, offering an exclusive to a select interested party ensures that your message will be heard.

Cons

  • Exclusives limit prospects. You can’t pitch other reporters when you’ve already offered someone an exclusive. Other media outlets might feel burned if you offer one outlet an exclusive over them, and they could hold it against you in the future.

dear PR people: don't lie. i know when you gave another publication the exclusive. don't tell me some vague story — i can read the internet

— Kia K. (@imkialikethecar)

October 16, 2014

 

  • Reporters are circumspect of exclusives. Many reporters will wonder: If this is good news, why are you limiting its reach? Ensure that you have a good reason to offer this particular piece of news to this particular media outlet as an exclusive.

  • You’re gambling with the news cycle. When you offer an exclusive, you’re gambling with the prospect that other big news will break and bump you out of relevancy.

A word of caution…

Don't do "fake" exclusives.

— Anthony Ha (@anthonyha)

February 19, 2014

 TL;DR Offering an exclusive can save you time and help build a relationship with a reporter, but you might not get the impact you are looking for.