Photo: Jacob Davies via Flickr
For startups, getting press is key to survival. You could have the best team and the best product, but if no one’s heard of you, you’re screwed.The problem startups have is that they’re new, which means they have no brand to help sell themselves.
There’s also a lot of noise to break through now that it’s cool to start a company.
So how do you make a reporter care?
You don’t need to be well known to be newsworthy. Your startup doesn’t even need to be the next Google.
Yes, without ever being opened. Don't be insulted, it's just to maintain inbox sanity.
Deciding what to delete is easy. Here's what goes straight to the trash:
- Unknown senders
- Non-compelling subject lines
- The recipient's name spelled wrong
- Boring first sentence (you can see it in gmail without ever opening the email)
- Any combination of the above
2. Even if your email gets opened, there's a 50/50 chance it will be deleted without being read (or replied to)
Even if you spelled the recipient's name right and you nailed the subject line, you might not get a reply. Here's why:
- You wrote something untrue about the recipient in an effort to connect (i.e. 'Congrats on the new job!' What new job?)
- Your email is too long
- Your email isn't relevant to what the reporter covers
- Your startup is a tired trend.
It's time consuming to pitch multiple people your startup. It's much easier to send one mass email and bcc everyone.
Don't do this. If you want someone to spend time on you, spend time on them.
Find the recipient on Twitter and read something they've tweeted recently. Use LinkedIn to find out where they went to school and see if you have that in common.
Don't go on and on about what you know about them. One line is fine, such as 'I saw you went to Syracuse, Gmac is the man!'
Don't get the information wrong though. This can backfire if you assume something that's incorrect.
Most writers cover certain aspects of a business. They specialize in covering startups, Facebook, AOL, or Google, but they don't report on them all.
Authors have bios on their sites. Skim those and read recent articles. You'll quickly learn the writer's beat and which topics are more likely to pique their interest.
If you stray outside that beat, you're giving the writer another guilt-free excuse to trash your email.
As awesome as you think your startup is, chances are it won't be the strength of your pitch. Many people have ideas; unfortunately most of them are bad.
Stories are much more compelling. Try to come up with a story about your company that you'd like to read if it was about another company.
With that in mind, here are some pitching topics that stand out to reporters:
- Strong ideas. If your business idea is truly fresh (i.e. something that makes people think 'Cool, I haven't heard anything like that before'), then a reporter will have no choice but to follow up. Remember you're biased; most ideas are bad. You must be certain your idea is the coolest thing ever to lead with it.
- Strong brands that support your startup. Were you a TechStars or Y Combinator company? Do you have awesome, well-known angel investors? Have your founders worked at reputable companies like Google or Apple? Did a colleague or friend of the reporter refer you? All of those are strong points to make in the subject and body of your email.
- An exclusive. Every reporter likes a good scoop. Offer something no one else knows about your company. It makes reporters feel special. No one likes to report old news, especially if it's published on a rival site first.
- A different point of view. Take a stance like 'Social media is dead,' or 'Suck Wall Street dry and then start a company' and back it up. It doesn't have to be quite so controversial, but opinions are often more compelling than facts. They create discussions everyone can partake in. A story like that will be read more often than one that states, 'some founder you've never heard of started another daily deals site that may or may not fail.'
- Funding announcements and product launches are newsworthy.
Don't waste your time writing lengthy emails because reporters don't have time to read them. Be succinct.
Also, don't use buzz words to describe your company, such as: 'We're the Groupon for luxury' or 'We're the Foursquare for websites.'
Write what's unique about your startup, not how you're similar to one that's already dominating a category.
These are real examples of emails from my inbox that got deleted:
- 'Influence in the digital age'
- 'Tim Ferris Recommends…' first line: 'Hello friend!'
- 'DailyGobble Partners with Givology for Make Your Mark'
- 'Peggy Olson Died For Your Sins' (yes, that's a real headline)
- 'Startup wonderMode.com for Emerging Designers'
Note: The first is too broad and boring, the second is a mass email, the third and fifth have no notable brands, and the fourth is just strange.
It is fine to follow up but don't be annoying.
Someone once sent me two emails, called the office twice, and left cell phone messages all in one day.
Although the pitch was mildly intriguing, his pushiness got him (and his client) ignored.
It's also bad to create a false sense of urgency. Emails flagged as urgent when they're not or claiming a pitch is life or death when it isn't will make a reporter avoid you in the future.
If something really is urgent, by all means label it that way. But if it's your first or second interaction with a reporter, you probably don't have anything urgent to share.
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