#startuptips: How to pitch your story to journalists


journalism’s public service functions: accountability, timeliness and accessibility @melaniesill #openjournalism
One of the things that will help you “market” your startup idea is to get the media’s attention. There are a lot of ways of doing this, but we’ve put together this top 10 things that we feel are practical, and yet effective ways to pitch your story to journos.

1. Give them a unique story that is fit for their audience. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all kind of a media release. Once you figure out who their audience is, figure out a way to tell your story that would stand out. Online audience usually want video. They also want to experience the service. They also want to know the juicy details –especially for breaking stories. If you’re talking to business journalists–give them numbers, not just facts and let them make their conclusions. If they ask questions, give them enough information to run a story.

2. Be accessible but don’t be pushy. Provide basic contact information: Person of Contact, mobile number, email and of course, your website address. Throw in your Twitter and Facebook account too, just to make sure you got it all covered. But don’t keep calling them to follow up on a request. Most journalists will respect you for respecting their time–not that they want to be divas. Just make sure you reply to their queries even though it is just a “no comment.”

3. Don’t lie about or manufacture facts you cannot backup. It’s their job to find out if you’re lying to their face. They will know. If they happen to stumble upon leaked information, and cannot make comment, be courteous to answer their call, and explain why you cannot comment. It’s mutual respect–they will also respect you for that. Just don’t lie to them and pretend things will go away.

4. Don’t ignore them too. A simple text message or email reply that, “Yes, we got your message,” would help ease the pain. For startup companies going through a lot of problems, it would be good for you to answer them with questions about how you’re dealing with it. It helps that you know what you’re problems are–but of course, be ready to offer a solution.

5. Show don’t tell. This is a lesson from Steve Jobs who was media-savvy. He made sure when he does product demos, everything’s working well, not just fine. You should be able to eat your own dog food, which means you’re a power user of your own service/product. Journalists could tell if you’re fumbling or if you’re pretending to know what you’re doing.

6. FAQs are very useful. When drafting a media release, anticipate the questions that journos will be asking. So you have to develop a “sixth-sense” to predict what kind of questions they want answered, and how they want it answered. FAQs are very useful not only on websites, but also in releases. You can put in commonly asked questions by users, a bit of history, background of the founders, and your one-sentence business proposition (What is your business all about).

7. Develop good relations with them, always. Don’t disappear after a media conference. Hang out with the journos. Talk to them, but make sure what you say is not going into tomorrow’s news. Just get to know them better and find out what makes them tick. At the end, it is going to be about relationships. Journalists all aim to develop good sources of stories. So if you can, share some industry insights, refer them to other companies you think they can write stories about, or if you’re okay with it–give them some insider information–but not giving away any confidential information or even putting someone or a company in trouble. But they will try to push.

8. Use social media to engage them.  Many journalists today–especially the media savvy ones, are starting to ask questions via Facebook or Twitter. Why? You’re busy and if company policy allows, you can use social media as your “real time” blog or channel to update journalists about the status of a project. Use Instagram or other social networking sites (YouTube) to spread word about the company, activities you wish they covered (community projects), and other stuff that gives them enough information to create a story. Be your own media and PR agency.

9. Learn to talk to journalists. Learn their language. Understand them. Don’t talk down on them. Pretend you’re explaining to non-techies (actually assume that you’re talking to people who don’t have any idea about what you’re doing). So avoid acronyms, skip the geek talk. Go straight to the point. Don’t use corporate talk–or rhetoric to explain simple processes or issues. But don’t overdo this to the point that it can be demeaning. Balance is key.

10. Respect deadlines. Don’t waste their time. Know their deadlines. Know that when they’re calling, it may be urgent. If you promise to reply to a certain email, figure out the timelines. Turnovers are often quick especially for online news mediums. Magazines, TV or radio may have different needs–but they all have deadlines. So be ready with all the information that you think they will need. But don’t go beyond what you want to say. Over sharing may do more harm than help.

So there you go. These are practical advice culled over years of covering technology companies. And we at StartUpMachine feel that it’s about time to share our “trade secrets.” –Editors

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