The high-profile bloggers and reporters
(think Alexia Tsosis, Sarah Lacy, Robert
Scoble) can spend most of their time on
investigative journalism and analysis
Edit: OK, seriously, this is where you lost me.
Robert Scoble, for example, is a sucker
for anything involving Google Glass or
Alexia Tsotsis (you misspelled her name in the article) has gone off to business school, and Scoble is in AA. I find it hard to give any credence to anything you say after this.
Also to be clear: I don't find Scoble's work particularly interesting. I think he's uncritical and offers little more than naked PR opportunities to companies hoping to tap into his ravenous mob of tech enthusiasts. But, it's not like I dislike him as a human being. I just wish he was more critical about the companies he shows off on Facebook, or wherever he's posting now.
The process definitely works, I've used it for a dozen companies when I used to work in marketing, and it has worked for my company as well.
Wouldn't it have made sense to update it prior to porting to Medium then?
It's all about knowing the reporters. Form emails can't address that.
Based on that knowledge, you can give them something they care about, and that gift may move them from their default setting of indifference toward a willingness to engage. You build relationships with them over time, even if it starts with a cold email.
But this conversation is about what should be in that cold email. I'm arguing that it shouldn't be a form pitch. Personalized at scale, for me, sounds like an oxymoron.
This process works. You may have a better one with no scale, but I've used this dozens of times and it works every time, even at big publications, and have developed many relationships using it.
Is it okay to find users from Craigslist to tell them about your startup too?
Another thing that I never understand is If I draft the email personally by hand then it is okay but if I use a template to mass fill the emails with [first name] then it is spamming? How does one decide the ethical side of such growth hacks?
I'd argue that the people we're pitching want to be pitched - it's actually a part of their job. We're just doing it at scale as a way to save a lot of time.
> Is it okay to find users from Craigslist to tell them about your startup too?
I know you're joking about this, but I'm pretty sure Airbnb would have failed without doing exactly that.
At the end of the day the ethical line is one you need to draw yourself. But IMO if the people you're emailing expect to and are OK with receiving email pitches from you you're well on the "ethical" side of the scenario.
Ask (almost) any reporter: They want to be pitched.
There are sites like www.helpareporter.com which do the exact same thing but the difference here is that the reporters opt-in to get the emails. I think that is a more ethical way of doing it.
>I know you're joking about this, but I'm pretty sure Airbnb would have failed without doing exactly that.
Wow, though as per AirBnB it was a rogue marketing agency which did it without telling them.
Link for the lazy (first article on Google):
HARO has like 5 requests/day, and it's for very niche topics. If you're writing for TechCrunch you expect to be pitched. That's just the way it works.
> as per AirBnB it was a rogue marketing agency which did it without telling them.
I call bullshit on that. They funded the company selling cereal for $50/box on Craigslist. They knew how to play the Craigslist game. Craigslist is incredibly difficult to mass post on, you don't do that by accident.
I don't blame them from shying away from it when they were big enough for people to care, but I bet you if you had them in private they'd admit to it.
Plausible Deniability as a Service
In addition, the email addresses that reporters give on websites are not their real addresses. The publicly shown addresses lead to spam buckets, precisely because too many people are sending emails indiscriminately.
Facebook prevents scraping user data via the API for exactly this reason.
I still think emailing reporters through their publicly provided email addresses is different.
If you want to debate whether ads in general are ethical, I'm really not about to have that discussion yet again; I'll let someone else take it and we can all argue the same points we always do for the millionth time.
If it's unsolicited, but not bulk, it's okay. If it's solicited (where solicited means "opt in, with a confirmation of that opt in") it's okay. As soon as it's bulk and unsolicited it's spam. And that doesn't change if you hand craft the emails or use a template.
Users -- especially those hitting the "spam" button -- define spam.
Whether or not something is considered spam depends largely on whose interest you're serving by sending it: the sender's, or the receipient's.
> As soon as it's bulk and unsolicited it's spam
Did you mean to write this? You essentially said to stop saying "spam" and that this is spam...
Amazing how well that old-school growth hack still works...
I run a small ambient background noise app called A Soft Murmur . It has been featured by some fairly high-profile outlets, including the Arts section of The Independent , Netted  and being tweeted by SXSW .
I made a large update to the app about a year ago and made a concerted effort to get some press. I compiled a list of people I thought would be interested, ranging from tiny bloggers to well-known tech journalists. In each case, I made sure that there was a personal connection between the person I was contacting and my application - either the person had written about finding it difficult to work in noisy environments, or they had written about scientific research on the effects of background noise on productivity, or they mentioned using background noise as a tool for meditation or relaxing, or they had written about a similar service before, etc. Each email was hand-written without using any templates, and each email referenced why I thought that specific person would be interested. I also experimented with different formats - more detail, less detail, more formal, more friendly, etc. I also tried lots of different angles, sharing different interesting tidbits about the app and how it came to be.
None of those emails generated a single article or mention. I probably sent a couple of hundred over the course of a week, and the success rate was literally 0%. What's more, although I worked hard to make each email sound positive, I hated the whole process and it made me feel like scumbag.
All of the positive press about my application has been generated by word of mouth. I've been very fortunate with happy users spreading the word on social media, and press outlets picking it up from there.
It's possible that I just suck at writing pitches, but I tried a lot of different approaches and made a real, good-faith effort to only contact people who I genuinely thought would be interested in my app. I had no success whatsoever. Even trying as hard as possible to make each message personal and relevant, it still felt a bit spammy. It also sucked up a lot of time.
It's not something I would do again.
> None of those emails generated a single article or mention. I probably sent a couple of hundred over the course of a week, and the success rate was literally 0%. What's more, although I worked hard to make each email sound positive, I hated doing it and it made me feel like scumbag.
I occasionally participate in a Reddit forum for music production, and a frustrated member just went through the exact same experience trying to submit to music review / blog / coverage sites: More than 100 emails, targeted, using methods that the community had identified and cited as constructive. 0% response rate.
In the course of telling the group about the experience, sure, several members chimed in saying they'd be willing to take a look...some might even be writers or editors relating to a music blog, but I think the lesson I learned was that "joining a community and sharing with it is much easier than attempting to solicit interest." In a past experience, working at an indie movie theater, the biggest "success stories" were almost always word-of-mouth buzz related (e.g. Big Fat Greek Wedding) versus the films which did a lot of advertising (About Schmidt being the biggest exception).
I agree with this broadly, but I feel like I am too biased by how fortunate I have been to really appraise how useful the exercise was in the terms you describe.
By "fortunate", I mean the application has been a success in my own modest terms, relative to the time I spent working on it. I think that success is attributable mainly to luck.
Although the people who use the application like it based on its inherent qualities, I don't think those inherent qualities alone were enough to guarantee that my application would find users back in the critical early stage. I think it found users because when I submitted it to Reddit a couple of years ago, shortly after creating the first version, I was lucky that enough people happened to see it in the list of new submissions and happened to like it and happened to like it enough to upvote it. There are 5-10 people out there who I will never meet who are responsible for that submission getting on to the front page of that subreddit, which resulted in a flood of traffic, which resulted in a chain of events that eventually led to success (again, on my own terms).
If you flip a couple of bits of background entropy, I build exactly the same thing and try to spread the word about it in exactly the same way and it never gets any traction and no one ever really finds out about it.
So while the current version of me may agree that I value the self-knowledge "I'm not the kind of person who feels comfortable mass-emailing strangers in an attempt to promote myself", the version of me in that other, equally plausible reality where my application never got any users might not feel the same way, or might still be mass-emailing strangers, or what have you. I don't know, because I've been so fortunate with how things have turned out.
In some ways though, I think your reluctance to want to reach out, unsolicited, is something I can relate to my music endeavors. I get stage fright, whether in front of people I know or just a gathered crowd at an open mic night. I mean, they're there to hear music, so why should I feel nervous? Eventually I got to the point where I would go out and play on street corners, sometimes with a tip jar but mostly just to do it, and get over the fact that what I'm doing has merit because I want to share it, and if nobody pays attention, it doesn't mean I was a jerk for playing some nice tunes in a public space.
Also, I got interviewed in July by a reporter who sought me out. No article has materialized. I kind of suspect it got killed. So even if they come to you, it may not get published. It was a national paper. I get piddling amounts of traffic. I am incredibly bummed and have no idea what to do. I thought it would get published and make a big difference in my life.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong. I look at marketing like I do computer programs. Most of the time your first go at it is buggy (and maybe won't even compile). If any single thing is off the entire process comes crashing down.
Your acquisition results are occasionally impressive, but not sticky:
Note 400K monthly visits in August, but then only 85K in September.
Why the results are so unstable?
Second, we're a crowd sourced news company, so we're focused on the contributor side, which has been consistently growing 15% week over week. Sometimes that causes traffic spikes, and we can drive insane amounts of traffic if we try, but it will still be a couple months before readers are our priority.
Correction: similarweb shows 540K visits in August.
> 15% week over week
For how many weeks?
It was 20% for eight weeks, 15% for the next four. If you join the newsroom you'll see how incredible it's becoming.
> Once it finds the right contact info it will automatically plug that information in, so you could be pretty close to simply hitting “send” for every email you write and moving on to the next site.
> If you’re copying and pasting or just hitting “send” you’re doing it wrong.
I thought the example email was good and the article also says its good, but it has no real personalization, that email could work for any reporter. Then at the end you call that "pretty close" and say that you'd be doing it wrong by sending the same email over and over.
What level of personalization is recommended for cold emails like this? And if that email works when sent en-mass, why not set up a script that sends an email through gmail once a minute instead of spending a day sending 500?
Loved your recent coverage of [relevant topic to your startup], raised some interesting points about A, B and C.
[Begin pitch about startup]
Be intentional about this stuff. I run a news site that gets pitched a lot of topics, some relevant and some completely off base, and a lot in the middle. The ones that have proven they have at least spent 5 minutes on the site understanding what we cover are always way more likely to get a response from me.
It looks at similar methods, at people getting published on small blogs and then leveraging that to get articles in major publications.
The book has it's flaws, but it was still a great read.
"Here's how to scrape a bunch of emails from AllTop"
First, let me just say I spent a decade working as a reporter for the NYT, the IHT, Bloomberg, Businessweek and others. For the last two years, I've done media relations for startups in one way or another. I'm not selling my services here.
Alexia Tsotsis stepped down as co-editor of TechCrunch in May. She writes for them on a very occasional basis now.
Robert Scoble, whose taste in fine alcohol Austen has highlighted, actually went on the wagon in January. Pushing him back toward his addiction is probably unadvised.
So the big lesson is: know your reporter. And I'm afraid to say that that doesn't scale. It's a lot of work by one human being, figuring out who covers what and how you can appeal to them.
That's why PR agencies exist. One small group of people does the grueling work of tracking down and getting to know reporters.
Unfortunately, PR agencies have a principle-agent problem. Most of their clients have no way to figuring whether they're doing their work well. They just know they're paying $15K per month. And in fact, more than half of all PR agencies suck, including some of the most famous ones. So you need to watch out.
One of the reasons they suck is they send out form emails, like the kind Austen is advocating here. Personalized emails don't really scale. Changing the names of the reporter and publication is not really personalization.
To be fair, Austen is right in saying you need a list of publications and reporters that may be interested in you, and you need to know where to situate those publications in a pyramid of importance. He's also right about the trickle-up effect. You want to start off Broadway, and offer increasing social proof of your newsworthiness as you move up the ladder (which keep going past TC to larger general-readership publications if you're lucky).
But if you send out a form email, you will piss off the people you want to please. They get 1000s of those per day, and they don't even bother to delete. Deletion itself would be too much effort. You have to understand that with the evisceration of the press in this country, the ratio of newsmakers to reporters has increased. The reporters are overwhelmed. You need to offer them something special.
And you need to do that from the subject line of your email -- that's your only chance to get any of them to spend an additional 5 seconds on your message.
And now I need to say something counterintuitive:
Your first message to a reporter shouldn't be about you. It should be about them. People approach PR way to late in the game, when they have a launch they need coverage for.
If you're smart, you'll start much earlier, when you don't need press, and you can simply offer someone help. Read their stories, figure out if you have information, insights or introductions you can make to help them do their job and look smart, and give them that.
It's better to start out giving rather than taking.
I wrote this free ebook for a startup where I worked two years ago. Some of the info may still be relevant and up to date.
Oh is this ever 100% true from my experience and it's exactly what I did in the past. I would write and offer praise for an article written and then offer some added information. After a bit of that I finally ended up being quoted or asked about events and was considered a source. (NY Times, Dow Jones as two examples).
That said most people will not want to put in the effort to lay the groundwork like this. But it is for sure a good idea.