Pitching to Bloggers (and Journalists) – Tips for Startups

Most early stage startups don’t have the budget (or the desire) to hire a PR agency to help them get news coverage. Getting coverage for a startup is (in my opinion anyway) easier than it has ever been – there are loads of online publications that cover startups and they’re easy to find and contact. But as least favorite engineering prof used to say to me “April, just because I say it’s easy, doesn’t mean you can’t mess it up.”

Here’s my list of Do’s and Don’ts

Do This

  1. Cultivate relationships before you need them – Did you ever have a friend that only called you when they wanted something? Don’t be that person. There’s generally a ton of runway pre-launch you can use to establish relationships with bloggers and journalists. Meeting face to face (at events, social gatherings, industry meetings, etc.) is always the best way but I’ve had good relationships that started out with me commenting a lot on their blogs, sharing their content, and linking to or blogging about their content on my company blogs. The goal is to get a better understanding of the person (what do they like/dislike, how can help them out, etc) at a stage when you aren’t asking for something.
  2. Have something newsworthy to talk about – this isn’t just about having a great product, it’s about having a great story to tell that people will want to read about (and yes, great products make this easier). Why should people be excited about your news? How does it relate to other newsworthy things (market/buyer/cultural/economic trends for example) people are interested in? Most startups are great at tying their solutions to technology trends which works well for tech/startup publications. If you want more mainstream press your tie-in’s will need to be more mainstream. I talked to a startup recently that got good coverage tying their product news to the Occupy movement, and another that had a great story related to wedding planning that launched at the time of the royal wedding. You need to answer the question – why is your news interesting right now?
  3. Pitch writers that are a good fit for your news – I’ve seen few examples where folks have been successful by blasting large lists with a generic pitch. Do your homework and understand what the writer covers, their likes and dislikes, whether or not they have written about other companies in similar markets and if so, what were the stories like. Build a personalized pitch that includes why you chose to pitch them specifically. If possible tailor your story angle for the publication or for them personally.
  4. Make it as easy as possible – I like to have a media page that I can direct folks to where writers can get quick easy answers to basic questions (i.e. who/when/why was the company formed, who are the noteworthy employees/customers/partners/investors/advisors involved, what is the value the company delivers and to what markets) and get easy access to logos, screenshots, video, graphics etc. Write your press release so that it’s easy to copy sections from it to create a story (hard to believe but this happens more than you would think). Video and/or images (I seem to be the only person on the planet that’s sick of infographics) that compliment the story work well because they make it easy to create a visually interesting post.
  5. Kiss butt (a little) – Just like regular folks, bloggers generally like working with people who are nice to them more than they like dealing with jackasses. In my opinion, putting a little sugar on it just helps move things along. Tell them you loved their most recent post, say thank-you when they cover you, send them a happy holidays note – this stuff seems simple but so few people do it that you will stand out when you do. Just be careful not to spread it on stalker-thick.

Try to Avoid This

  1. Phoning people (or pestering them on social media) – What’s the definition of zero? The likelihood anyone will return your unsolicited phone call. I could have also said the probability that a blogger will pick up the phone when you cal,l but you get it. There’s a reason most folks don’t publish their phone numbers. Most publications have a preferred method of contact for pitches that they publish (usually a dedicated email address that is monitored) and going around it just annoys people. This goes for sending private messages to people over social media. Those channels are full of spam and using them when you don’t know the person makes you a spammer too.
  2. Getting the names and/or genders wrong – My name isn’t Apple but I get a lot of email addressed to her. It’s hard to take people seriously after they have mistaken me for a fruit. Also confusing someone for a member of the opposite sex is just no way to start a relationship.

What am I missing?

 

54 thoughts on “Pitching to Bloggers (and Journalists) – Tips for Startups”

  1. Great advice April

    Point 1 is crucial. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen startups make is waiting until the last minute to prepare their launch.

    Instead I recommend thinking of 2 launches
    – technical product launch – usually a beta – driven by customer discovery / MVP needs
    – marketing launch – where you have lined up a media blitz for a newsworthy announcement – focused solely on momentum

    This way you can build relationships with bloggers / journalists during your beta, and fully brief them under embargo and give them content for your marketing launch

    1. Good point. I’ve seen companies describe this in different ways. When I worked at IBM we used a launch process where we really designed a year-long program rather than thinking of launch as something that happens on just one day.
      Like you say, there are things you do before the offering is generally available, things you do once it is and then things you do after the initial buzz and excitement has died down. All the parts are important.
      April

    1. Love that post – and you have some very good points there about not every blogger being in the business of breaking news and that the relationship doesn’t end after the post is published.
      April

      1. Thanks. I am a product person writing blog for passion and they look at me as another outlet for their hosepipe :). Love your blog. Hopefully you will find more time this year for the insightful posts you write. I shameless use some of your marketing tips in my line of work 🙂

        1. Hey thanks! Yep, I will be more active on the blog this year. Last year my travel schedule was NUTS and it was hard to blog from Asia. This year will be much better 🙂

  2. Welcome back! It’s pretty amazing to me to see how open & friendly many people are in the startup and web development and design communities, (compared to other industries), and this helps with your item #1 – it’s easier than ever to reach out and make friends with someone and build your network. Maybe it’s the social effect of the web, etc.

    We just need to keep #2 & #5 in mind when reaching out, and because we are all busier than ever, #4 is a top priority.

    Go above & beyond the normal to explain your message completely, so the reader doesn’t need to waste time asking for clarification. Have a complete stranger read your message so you learn what you ASSUMED the other person knew, and then you can provide some background information to make it easy for them. It may take longer to write, but it’s quick to read it, and that saves the reader time and frustration and moves you closer to your goal of getting coverage.

  3. Pingback: Software Marketing Tweetables - 9 January 2012 | Smart Software Marketing

  4. I love that April mentioned first that cultivating relationships is super important. These relationships are more important than money, as they relationships can lead to help in so many ways.

  5. This blog is fantastic! I’ve been reading it on and off for more than a year and there’s always something to learn here. Now that I’m actually working a startup, I’ll need a way to market it out a bit before our beta launch…
    /doingitright? 😉

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