In 2001 my co-founder and I developed our first product, EasyBib.com, a free bibliography generator. To get the word out, we emailed reporters at local newspapers with a story angle about “students helping students using technology.”
The Chicago Tribune liked the angle. After they wrote about us, we were featured in USA Today and a range of smaller newspapers. The publicity put us on the map, playing an instrumental role in growing EasyBib to 40 million users and enabling us to scale our business.
But reaching out to journalists today is very different than it was in 2001. The turn of the millennium was a different time: There was not a wide array of online business and tech publications, there was no Twitter for real-time news and journalists definitely did not receive the same deluge of pitches they do today.
Lately, we’ve been thinking about how to promote our newest product—GetCourse, a platform that delivers deep analytics on your PowerPoint presentations. So, when I heard of an upcoming press panel featuring journalists from TechCrunch, Business Insider and Fortune magazine, I was curious to learn more about what it takes to connect with a journalist today.
Moderated by J.J. Colao, founder of startup PR firm Haymaker and the New York Tech Press Meetup, and hosted by Turn to Tech, a mobile software education company the event hosted select journalists and attendees were introduced to “a day in the life of a tech journalist”. Here’s a recap of key insights we learned:
Journalists Are Busy: Make Their Time Count
Journalists and reporters are exceptionally busy. So, when you reach out to pitch a story there are a few things you simply should not do:
- Don’t send mass emails with irrelevant information, either as a company or an individual.
- Don’t email a pitch with the subject line, “STORY IDEA: [insert something generic here].” As Alyson Shontell, a senior correspondent at Business Insider, put it: it’s their job to have story ideas. If they didn’t, they’d probably be doing something else.
- Don’t send a complimentary email about a piece only to pitch something of your own, especially if the two ideas are completely unrelated.
Build Relationships: Trade on Information
Unsurprisingly, the journalists on the panel echoed something I’ve learned as an entrepreneur: it’s all about the relationship.
The best way is to reach out without needing anything. Journalists operate using an entirely different currency than the rest of us: information. If you can give them something they’re interested in, they are more likely to help you later on.
Don’t make your pitch transactional; instead, give them updates on companies you know they’ve been following or drop some hints about industry information. Even tweeting useful tips to them can work.
Be Interesting: Think ‘Newsworthy’
What is interesting? Ultimately, it’s something that will make an editor cock their head when hearing a story.
The ideas that drive interest, they warned, may not be obvious, and it’s important that they are framed in the right context. For example, “This company is changing email!” may not be as cool or unique as you think. But something like, “Here are five companies that did ‘this’ with email and failed, but here’s an ambitious company trying to change that” could draw interest, according to one of the panelists.
Journalists Are Human: They Get Pissed Off Too!
The panel of journalists all noted that they’ve been pitched in the most random and unforgiving places. For example, some said they’ve been pitched to in the bathroom, at Thanksgiving dinner and by various family members.
It’s important to remember that there are right and wrong times and places to pitch your story ideas. Understanding this is key to landing coverage in media outlets. They mentioned a few annoying things people do that can potentially ban you from consideration—forever.
Needless to say, here are things to avoid when pitching journalists:
- Don’t go past two follow-ups. Three or four is egregious.
- Don’t blow up their personal cell phone or email inbox with messages.
- Don’t try to undercut one publication with another. It’s important to understand the meaning of exclusivity and media embargoes.
- Don’t lie. Be honest, be transparent and be approachable. In this case: You schmooze, you lose.
Subject Line’s That Get Read Look Like This …
While there are quite a few don’ts when pitching journalists, here are several good ideas to follow that the panelists mentioned:
- Include a big name, connection, or something they care about.
- If you’re trending or being written about elsewhere, mention it!
- Make it look like a personal email — be casual and friendly.
- Include as much information, in a concise and brief format, as you can.
- Ensure that the subject line reflects the content.
Ultimately, the key is to understand that members of the news media are really busy people who work in a high-speed, high-stress environment. Pitches are thrown at them day in and day out, and they can only write about the ones that are especially interesting and cool. What matters to them above everything else is attention-grabbing information.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Neal Taparia is Co-CEO of Imagine Easy Solutions. Their new product GetCourse allows to you to get rich data from your powerpoint and PDFs online by adding user tracking, questions, and surveys. Connect with @tapneal on Twitter.
© YFS Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Copying prohibited. All material is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this material is prohibited. Sharing of this material under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International terms, listed here, is permitted.