HOW TO: Get your startup noticed in the media
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You’ve got the next “big thing” in technology. You’re excited and want to share it with the world. However, you’ve found that getting the media to cover your brand new startup isn’t easy. Luckily there are journalists and bloggers and entire outlets who specifically cover startups. This means a lot of people, including you (or your public relations representative) are competing for coverage. How do you make sure your startup’s story stands out?
I spoke with startup writer Jennifer Van Grove (@jbruin), associate editor at Mashable, who offered tips to help you generate coverage. Keep these tips handy before (or during) your next pitch. (And, good luck!)
When should a startup begin pitching their product or platform? How early is too early?
The actual pitching part of the process really shouldn’t begin until the startup is ready to announce a release, launch or something else tangible — more than two weeks advance notice is unnecessary. The relationships piece of the puzzle is a bit trickier and should be on-going. The idea being that you need to know who to reach, and that they’ll actually listen to/read your pitch, way before you’re ever ready for coverage.
How does a startup get the attention of a startup journalist or blogger? What about you specifically?
There’s no one right way to do this.
Some of my colleagues are open to any and all crafty tactics, while others want the traditional email pitch. Personally, I prefer the latter (and will not consider pitches via Twitter or Facebook). A short email that explains what the product is and does is all that it takes. If it’s a good product that I think will appeal to Mashable readers, then that’s enough for me to start digging to see if there’s a story.
Introductions are also a good way to nudge a reporter to consider your pitch. Most journalists want first crack at a potentially great story or startup and if they hear of something new through a friend, founder or contact, then it’s something they’ll likely consider.
The be all end all thing here though is whether the story is right for the reporter. Don’t just assume that because a reporter wrote about something similar once or they’ve covered a competitor, that they’ll want to write about your thing too. In fact, starting off with “I saw you wrote about XXXX, and I have a startup that does all that and more,” is a terrible first impression. No one wants to write about an also-ran, and if your product can’t stand on its on legs, then why should I be interested? Back to the point, though, you need to know what the reporter wants to write about. If you don’t know, find someone who does.
What is the most important information you’re looking for when writing about a startup? Stats and numbers? Potential?
The most important thing: Is this interesting? That’s it for me. Is this interesting on a product level? Is this interesting because of early traction? Is this interesting because the founders have a unique story? I need something that pops out, grabs me and makes me excited to tell the story.
The best thing a founder can do is answer that question in the first sentence or two. Keep it simple.
Does a startup need to provide you with a full press kit? What resources should they have ready when pitching media?
Up front, no. Pitch the story succinctly and drive it home with a screenshot or something visual that makes the cool factor apparent immediately.
Do have press materials — release, one sheet, screenshots — on hand and be ready to send these out at a moment’s notice. A press release isn’t always necessary, but you need something that details what the news is and what the key facts are. I like to have more information than necessary, so that I can take everything and craft it all into a well-rounded story, but there’s no need to send this stuff unsolicited.
Screenshots, photos or video are a must. If it’s an app, make sure you have a build I can try. If it’s invite-only, make sure you have invites. Etc.
If a startup pitches you at the “wrong time” (i.e. they’re not ready for coverage) does that mean you may not consider them again?
No. There’s rarely any permanent deal-breakers unless the person doing the pitching is overly aggressive, rude, whiney or hard to work with.
This also means that startups with press reps should have an intimate knowledge of who is talking to the media on their behalf, and what they’re saying. A PR person could be shooting your startup in the foot. It happens a lot, and there’s certain people that are automatic Nos. In fact, I know some of us create filters to avoid seeing pitches from people that we don’t like to work with.
What makes a good startup story?
Mainly product. Is it new, flashy, controversial or unconventional?
Something to keep in mind is that there are a number of reporters that like funding stories. I’m not of that ilk (unless its a particularly sizable amount for a particularly notable startup), but if a funding news speaks to a bigger trend, then I might be interested in covering the trend.
What are best/worst practices you’ve seen in startup pitches?
A best practice is to bring me a really amazing story first. Truthfully, just be succinct, honest and not overly hyperbolic and you’re fine.
As for worst practices, I hate when people I’ve never communicated before are too familiar. It’s contrived and it’s a waste of time. A relationship is not built by reading a few of my tweets or noting that we like to eat at the same restaurants. It’s kind of weird actually.
Also bad, using words like “revolutionary,” telling me this is the first-ever yada yada or saying that insinuating that because other outlet covered the story that I should too.
Here’s a “startup” list of some of our favorite startup writers and where you can find them on Twitter:
- When building media lists or researching, look for the technology bloggers that cover startups, but also make sure to research their specialty so you’re pitching the right person — some tech bloggers like to cover mobile app startups while others cover social media technology or personal technology.
- Don’t pitch several people at an outlet the same story — pick the best person. (Some outlets below have several bloggers with different start up tech focuses)
- Alexia Tsotsis, @alexia – covers emerging tech
- Sarah Lacy, @sarahcuda – TechCrunch editor-at-large, covers up-and-coming entrepreneurs
- Erick Schonfeld, @erickschonfeld – co-editor of TechCrunch; covers startups
- Leena Rao, @LeenaRao – tech writer, covers Internet companies
- Courtney Boyd Myers, @cbm – East Coast editor, covers startups
- Brad McCarty, @BradMcCarty – social tech
- Audrey Watters, @audreywatters – blogger for the tech startup section
- Sarah Perez, @sarahintampa – covers social technology, mobile and web applications
Melissa Harris, @ChiConfidential – writes Chicago Confidential column
- Claire Cain Miller, @clairecm – Bits blogger, covers venture capital and tech start-ups, based in San Francisco
- Roy Furchgott, @royfurchgott – Gadgetwise blogger, covers mobile and smart phones, mobile apps and accessories
Jessica Shambora, @jessshambora – writes about tech and startups
Lydia Dishman, @lydiabreakfast – contributing writer, covers innovation and entrepreneurship
Wall Street Journal
Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, @jenvalentino – Digits blogger, covers breaking news and insights at the tech landscape, including Q&As with newsmakers, product news and strategic moves.
Doug Gross, @doug_gross – Producer and CNN Tech and CNN Labs blogger, covers tech innovation, the Internet, gadgets
Jessica Guynn, @jguynn – blogger for the LA Times tech blog, covers social tech
Judie Lipsett, @geardiary – Gear Diary editor, covers tech, consumer electronics and gadgets
Katherine Boehret, @kabster728 – writes “The Digital Solution” for AllTHingsD and reviews digital technology (also writes for the Wall Street Journal)
Brad Stone, @BradStone – covers technology issues and companies
Katie Fehrenbacher, @katiefehren – an eco-blogger covering green tech
Scott Steinberg, @GadgetExpert – writes “Shiny Objects” blog and covers high-tech business technology and gadgets
John Brandon, @jmbrandonbb – editor and writer for Inc. Technology
Yet another tool for your arsenal — Publications that cover startups (borrowed with attribution from Information Marketing Conversations).
16. Demo Girl
17. WebDev 2.0
19. Sociable Blog
20. Emily Chang
23. On The App
24. Next Web App
25. DIY Startup News
27. Startup Booster
29. Robin Speziale
30. Submit Startup
33. Lovely Pages
37. Hacker News