Recently we held a workshop on “Media essentials for early-stage startups” with Natasha Lomas, a senior reporter at TechCrunch. She’s been in journalism for 17 years. Good pitches, bad pitches, stalking, and spamming—she’s seen it all.
Here are the insights we got from this workshop that can help startup founders pitch to journalists better.
Insight 1. If you are small, don’t hire PR agencies
Founders know everything about their startups, that’s why the best-crafted pitches come from them—not PR agencies. They can also answer journalists’ questions faster than a PR specialist, which often helps pitch a story.
Talking directly to journalists also helps build relationships with them. Building rapport with reporters, however, isn’t just about sending them your pitches. It’s hard work and it starts with compiling a database of journalists that write about your industry.
Reading reporters’ work will help you see if your story is the right one for them. Do they cover similar startups? Do they cover investment rounds? There’s only one way to find one—read what they cover.
The next step would be sharing some useful info that nobody else has. You may have heard some rumors or have some exclusive news. Sharing something like this will make you stand out from those who just send their press releases through PR agencies.
However, if you decide to send a tip, make sure you have something valuable. Journalists have a strong radar, they can tell when you’re just trying to win their approval.
With the right amount of attention to your targeting and thinking about reporters and their readers, your pitch will have more chances. And if you do it yourself and later move to another project, the relationships will stay with you—not a PR agency.
Insight 2. Don’t spam
When you pitch—pick one journalist from a publication. If she doesn’t respond, don’t send the same pitch to other journalists from the same newsroom. The journalist probably read your email but wasn’t interested in it. Sending the same email to someone else may make the whole newsroom think you’re a spammer.
If you don’t hear back—just follow up. If there’s still no response, move on. Reporters from big media receive hundreds of pitches a day and they don’t reply to every email.
Using email templates and sending pitches that start with “Dear Sir/Madam” are as bad as spamming. They show that you haven’t really read the media and have no idea why your pitch is relevant to this publication.
Insight 3. Use email—not social media
Email is by default the best comms channel when you send a pitch. Some reporters may prefer messengers or social media, but they are exceptions. Most journalists check their work emails more often than social media.
Reporters prefer pitches written in the body of an email, so don’t attach files or Google Doc links. Clicking on a link is another action, it adds friction and busy journalists may decide against opening it.
Insight 4. Know the best time to pitch
The golden rule: don’t send your pitch on a Friday afternoon. Facebook Inc., for example, publishes unpleasant news on Fridays so that fewer media write about it.
Read the news and if something big happens during the day, don’t pitch—choose a slower day.