Getting featured in the press is an excellent way for startups to build their brand, let customers know about key company updates, connect with key stakeholders and grow your business.
Last week I conducted a workshop in collaboration with Growth Hacking Asia in Kuala Lumpur on “How To Impress The Press”. This hands on workshop was attended by over 20 budding entrepreneurs and PR personnel from successful startups eager to learn the ropes to successfully executing their PR strategy.
At the start of the session, participants clued me into their primary difficulties in getting press coverage. Contacting journalists (and getting responses) was an area where the majority of startups struggled the most. How do we actually approach journalists? How can we make sure they publish our story? How do we get journalists to respond to our emails? What do we write in our email pitch? Beyond writing a press release there were clearly difficulties with getting the attention of journalists.
To sum it up in one sentence; How do I stand out amidst a crowd of innovative tech stories.
Here’s some strategies we’ve used with our clients at G3 Partners that have delivered excellent results. Armed with these tips, and if executed properly, you’ll soon be on your way to getting top tier press coverage that can power your startup into the public consciousness.
- Don’t bcc a list of journalists, ever!
It’s relatively easy these days to get press lists. Many publications will openly display the direct email addresses of their writers and there are even lists available for download online. But, never use the bcc function in an email pitch to writers. It comes across as impersonal and lazy.
The vast majority of journalists are passionate about the subjects they cover and an email they are bcc-ed on demonstrates that you have not taken the time to get to know what they are interested in. It’s definitely up there with the top three worst things you can do when you’re trying to get coverage in the press.
- Research journalists first and only mail them if your story is relevant
You’re a specialist in your area, whether it’s developing social media apps, creating IoT solutions, or disrupting financial services with your innovative payments service. In just the same way journalists have specific ‘beats’ (subject areas) that they focus on. Imagine the annoyance faced by a journalist who covers big data when he clicks on your email and you’re pitching him/her a story about your music sharing app. This lack of targeting and background research comes across to writers as laziness and chances are that journalist may never open your email again. The golden rule here is to start off your PR strategy with some thorough research. Sure, it will take some extra time, but the results will definitely be much better.
- Build real relationships with journalists, starting on social media
Once you’ve done your background research and created a short-list of journalists specific to your story, the next step is to follow them on social media. invite them on Linkedin with a friendly, professional and personalised message. Follow them on Twitter and start sharing and commenting on their relevant content. Showing some genuine interest goes a long way, when you reach out to them with a pitch.
To help perfect your journalist pitches familiarize yourself with some of their recent articles. That will give you an idea of their writing style and what topics interest them. With a deeper knowledge of the writer you can tailor your pitch email to match their writing style to enhance your chances of success.
- Perfect your email subject
Journalists get dozens or even hundreds of emails daily from startups just like you, hoping for coverage. The first hurdle is to catch their interest so that they open your email. Making sure your subject line stands out amidst the never ending flow of startup pitches is critical? Cram the value proposition of your story into just a few words and make sure that your recipient wants to clieck on your email to find out more. If you’ve just launched the world’s first connected coffee cup in partnership with Starbucks, then that is what your subject line should be: “Partnered With Starbucks We Just Launched World’s First Smart Coffee Cup”. A catchy subject line is sure to prompt the journalist to at least open your email. The next step is to make sure your email pitch delivers all the key information and leads the journalist to open your press release or contact you for an interview.
Chances are you won’t get the subject line right straight away. Try writing five or even fifteen options, take a breather then chose the one that’s the most compelling.
- Pitch Perfect
Once you have enticed the journalist to open your email, be sure to carry the momentum forward and don’t disappoint with your email pitch. Keep the email short but make sure you include all the relevant information. In just a few sentences describe your product/service, making sure you clearly convey the value of your story for your intended audience. Don’t forget to introduce yourself in a friendly and professional manor. Include the steps you would like the journalist to take, which would usually be to invite them to contact you for an interview to write a story based on your press release. Offering the journalist something extra always helps. you may wish to offer an exclusive on the story. Always attach your press kit to the email so that the journalist can refer to it for extra information. This saves them time in going back and forth in case of any further inquiries.
The biggest pet peeve of any journalist is reading an email full of buzzwords and jargons. Such pitch emails are impossible for writers to decipher because they tend to be so obscure. Bearing that in mind, keep your text simple and to the point.
- Avoid long narratives
If there is no proof that your product/service is the best in the world, do not mention it. Writers prefer to come to their own conclusions rather than being forced to accept one. Keep your pitch/story simple and factual and avoid giving your own opinion. Let the journalists make up their own mind.
- A picture speaks a thousand words
To help journalists visualise your story, especially if you’re pitching a technical solution, it is always an added benefit to attach some powerful images and/or videos to your pitch. Images and videos often help to explain the product/service more than words can. Also, articles are rarely published without a high resolution image, so make sure you add at least two or three. A screenshot or product image, company logo and a photo of your CEO or your team are good staples.
- Timing is key
The best time to conduct your outreach is towards the beginning of the week, with Tuesday and Wednesday being optimal. Sending early in the morning also helps to increase your chances as writers always check their email in the morning. Avoid reaching out closer to the weekend and avoid public holidays. Failing to observe these rules will likely result in your email being lost in their inbox.
Journalists always prefer to write about products / services that are already in the market. If you reach out to them in October for a December launch story, chances are your email will not get a response. If you have a pre-existing relationship with a journalist then send them your email a week before you would like the article to go out. Otherwise, start to build a relationship at least a month before you would like to begin your outreach. Don’t send your full press list too far in advance, but send a short email with the basics and let them know you’ll contact them again when the story is ready for publication.
- Be persistent
No one likes to be bugged, but one or two follow ups is perfectly acceptable. Wait a few days and if you haven’t heard back, send a short, friendly reminder. If you still don’t get a response send one final email follow-up, perhaps with a slightly different story angle. Or try reaching out via Twitter. If you still don’t hear back, then stop! Do not spam the journalist as this will kill any chance of getting covered positively in the future. Remember, it’s not their job to give you free PR. If they haven’t responded after three emails there’s probably a reason. They could be very busy or are just not interested in your story at the moment.
Another important thing to remember is that a non-response doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in your startup. Try again the next time you have an interesting story to pitch. Adopt the attitude that ‘no’ just means ‘try again next time.’
- Sample outreach email for journalists
My name is [name] and I am the [title] of [company]. [company name] was founded to [value of your product or service]. I’m excited to bring you news that we have just raised our first funding round from [name of VC]. I am emailing to see if you would be interested in writing an article about this momentous news.
[Company] launched [when] on both Google Play and the App Store and we have [key achievement]. Our recent funding will help us [do what] and we are already gearing up for the next stage of growth.
I have attached our press release and images with this email. Please let me know if you would like any additional information and and I am happy to arrange a follow-up interview any time.
Thanks for taking the time to consider our news for [name of publication], I really appreciate it!
I look forward to hearing from you,