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How to Pitch a Journalist Successfully (thedailymuse.com)
49 points by agranzel on July 3, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments

I'm a journalist, not a tech journalist though.

We write for the readers.

Some pointers.

1. Use the Who, What, When, Where and How. Who are you. What do you want. When is it happening. These are the three most important points to get across.

2. Press releases are usually technical jargon that makes no sense to readers. Explain what your product and service to help the readers. E.g. iPod can hold 1000 songs, not 10gb of songs.

3. Think of the readers and pitch it such that your story will be exciting to the readers.

I think it's important to remember what journalists are looking for - a story. I've had journalists basically admit to me that they don't have time to put together all the stories that they need, so they look for interesting stories that are easy to understand. A common problem that we had early on was that the media didn't understand our data - so we worked to refine the story down to a simple sentence that just about anyone could understand - and we tested it with people outside our company.

I think the problem with most PR is that it isn't a compelling story - but the people go to the trouble of doing a full PR release (including throwing it on the wires) for something that really isn't news and will never get covered. For items like that, the blog is a perfect outlet combined with social outreach.

In my opinion, it is also worth measuring the impact of your PR - not by number of article placements, but with a brand awareness survey of your target buyers. Yes, it costs money, but you can do it these days for a surprisingly low amount of money (like $1000). This can give you a benchmark for brand awareness among your target buyers and you can then measure the impact over time.

Finally, I think the reason to hire a PR person is because they have the relationships with the media outlets that you target. Yes, they can help with messaging, etc - but at the end of the day it's about whether or not they can pick up the phone and call XXX and have them take their call. Not something for all startups naturally - and as @brackin said at the top, developing those relationships yourself is very powerful.

Make relationships, it's simple as. You can very easily do this on Twitter but it's similar to investors in the sense that they won't pick up on you without an intro or building a prior relationship.

To get the most out of journalists at events you have to do your research. I went to TC Disrupt and got almost no press at all but did start some relationships. Six months later I went to LeWeb and prepared and was able to get an interview on the Wall Street Journal, TNW, Huffington Post, France 24 TV (CNN of France) and many other publications.

All I did was research who was going to be there and emailed them telling them about me and my startup. They then lined me up as a target to interview rather than me having to follow them. If their editor already knows about you before they go filming then you have a better chance as the editor has the real control, if they like what you've said in the email or call then the chances are they'll be wanting to get a lot from you as they think it'll be used.

This is appalling pabulum. It has no more to do with pitching a journalist successfully than wearing nice clothing to the interview has to do with getting a job.

Every pitch should have dual goals:

1. Ideally, you'd like to get covered. 2. Absent that, you'd like to increase the likelihood of getting covered in the future.

So you should think of your pitch as being more about making your company look worth writing about. In particular, don't breathlessly oversell a minor piece of news.

If you're a native English speaker, you should strongly consider going without a PR firm altogether. They're the sort of outfit who follow the cookie-cutter advice in the post linked here and think they're adding value. They also are very bad, with few exceptions, at finding credible ways to make you sound unique.

Here's a link with some of the reasons for my opinion:


(First time I've posted a link to Hacker News. I'm curious to see what happens ...)

You can do an after action report tomorrow. I would like to see it, especially if it doesn't involve 10k hits. I think only the crazy stuff gets reported and it skews public perception of what it means to post a link here. My links never get anywhere near the traffic that gets reported around here until people seem to think that kind of hype is the norm.

The thing to consider about a press release is it's a way that other journalists know every other journalist has gotten the news, and thus, is a way to guarantee that not many people will write about you (journalists are driven by the scoop). If what you have is actually 'news' and not just propaganda, give an exclusive to someone at a major daily. That beats a press release. Don't worry that the story they write hasn't got your contact details, the best journalists are like hackers, they can get any information they want. So the people that call you the day the story has run (and for this you must fit with the journalists schedule and resist talking early) will be a selection of the best and most interested journalists.

This works, but as I journalist I'd like to add that we hate being scooped and we hate hearing about news for the first time on a competitors site.

An alternative approach would be to give one publication an exclusive, and then as soon as the story runs send out the copy of a blog post from someone within the company (preferably a founder or the CTO, assuming it's a tech company) to journalists and say "we're going to run this on the company blog in an hour, but feel free to run a story with quotes from it now." That way we have something other than the competitors' story to quote from and we don't feel totally shutout.

I agree. I normally prefer long blog entries to generic press releases, but I work in a very technical environment and have the time to work on articles. That's why it is so important to know your journalists. If they ask you: "Have you read some of my articles?" you better have an answer.

Asking it here instead of commenting in the blog for more eyeballs:

1. The (only) media covering startups for my target market happens to be funded by the same investor and in the same company group with the startup I'm competing with. How to deal with this?

2. How to deal the case where you get reply from more than one media near simultaneously (after you BCC-spam them). Promising each of them "exclusive info" seems weird right? Should you honestly reply the rest, "Sorry folks, one media already replied."?

1. One journalist at a time. Journalists often have very different integrity and biases than their employers.

2. I don't understand why you think you need to offer exclusives at all. So I don't really understand the question.

Just kicking the assumptions on point 1 - what's the start-up? what's the target market? What's the media?

It's really not that hard. If the news is actually interesting to me - I assume (that if i'm a reflection of my readers) it will be interesting to them.

Basic product pitches, 500 words context setting shit and partnership stuff is often not interesting. Something i've never heard of before, something that will improve the way I work and live - that's what I crave.

Pitch me on that - and I'll write.

Is it just me, or is this title missing a 'to'?

How to pitch a journalist - surely I can't be the only one thinking that this contains instructions on how best to throw a journalist 10 meters in any direction...

I've noticed this quite a bit in American posts - words clearly missing, but no one cares

I was going to mention it if you didn't. I keep seeing signs of the population returning to a "Ready, Fire, Aim, er wait" mentality, but hopefully I'm just hypersensitive to those signs.

As Wyatt Earp said, "Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything".

The English language is a flexible thing. Some think that "y'all" is not 'proper', but name another single word second person collective pronoun in English. Some English in America also has "write me" instead of "write to me".

I sympathise with Daniel Hunt in my heart though I rationally see where you're coming from. If I were to give a nice blank canvas as a gift to a child and they were to smear excrement all over it, in my gut I'd be annoyed but I could probably be talked around to the idea that it's a valid form of self-expression, even if it's not my cup of tea.

However, saying "I could care less" when you mean "I could not care less". There is no justification for such a heinous crime. Murderers can be rehabilitated, electro-convulsive therapy can take care of all manor of criminal perversions, so save your death penalty for when it is really in the public interest. For the unconvinced, the Guardian newspaper made a little video:


"Write me" is an example of a shortened phrase, probably derived from "Write me a letter", versus "Write to me".

Honestly I thought "How to pitch a journalist" might mean how to endorse a journalist if it didn't happen to be a typo.

Interestingly enough, none of my friends from Georgia or Alabama use "Y'all" when writing/typing. I did a cursory search on Google, filtering to personal, and only found the slang used when joking about Southern accents.

How to pitch an idea How to pitch a journalist

How to pitch to an idea How to pitch to a journalist

... Flexible or not, that word fundamentally changes the meaning of the sentence

few pointers: Never, and I mean, never ever, call a journalist after you sent them your news and ask them if they got your mail and when they will write about it. It's a sure way to get you blacklisted. Target your mail. A tech-blog needs other information than a local newspaper. Set up a page with pictures and link to them.

And: Get a professional PR person. You might be good, but if you let your pr be handled by "guy x in marketing" then you are no better than those companies who let their IT be handled by "my sisters brother, he really knows his way around the internet".

How about you actually assess how good that 'guy in marketing is'. He/she might have been an agency PR in an earlier life, or perhaps even a journalist.

Your fist paragraph is good. The second one, as stated in my own comment to the main, I vigorously disagree with.

I can't say what the best long term strategy is, but I can say that as a tech journalist I almost always prefer to hear from someone involved in a company rather than a PR firm. But hiring a full-time internal PR person isn't the same thing as hiring an agency.

As inthewoods wrote, the reason for hiring a PR person is for their contacts. Agencies will make a lot of claims about how many contacts they have, but I've heard they'll often stick low-priority accounts with junior PR people or even interns (and the quality of pitches and press releases I've seen from well known agencies about unknown companies seems to confirm this).

Jagermo wrote: "i get a lot of mails from marketing people who think they know what journalists want. Most of them do not."

I get a lot of e-mails from PR people who think they know what I want, and few do. I get a lot of the same from marketing, but a lot of journalists end up in PR or marketing at some point in their careers and they often do know what other journalists want. Some people just seem to get it, whether they've been journalists or not, and some don't. I imagine it's easier to keep track on who's doing what and how good they're doing if they're internal and not outsourced to an agency, but I wouldn't know.

FWIW, some of the best pitches for startups I've gotten have come from investors.

Spoken like a true PR person.

Telling every bootstrapped startup to get a professional PR person is silly. The whole purpose of articles like this is so that they can make due without one in the beginning.

actually I'm a journalist and i get a lot of mails from marketing people who think they know what journalists want. Most of them do not. I have no interest in superlatives for example. Sure, you don't need one to start, but please, show me one successful startup without a professional PR person.

Edit: I think, companies need to see pr as a tool. Like your other tools. You can write all your code in Notepad. You normally don't.

Show me one successful startup without a janitor?

Starting out... there's a lot of things that you may need later but simply can't afford now (cost benefit analysis): dedicated CEO, dedicated designers, dedicated OPs staff or customer support, dedicated PR staff and yes... dedicated janitorial services.

If cleaning toilets were half as baffling as PR work, we'd be seeing a lot more articles on how to train your staff to use a toilet brush.

Most PR is not news. Writers for daily papers and blogs may run something they know isn't news to meet a quota (I've been in that situation), but the best way to pitch us is to give us something that's actually news.

My advice:

1) We're not all the same, no one can speak for all journalists.

2) Edward Bernays, a spin doctor so good he convinced the world that he invented PR, told Stewart Ewen that the job of PR is to instruct clients on how to "just interrupt... the continuity of life in some way to bring about the [media] response" (Ewen's book PR: A Social History of Spin) In other words, your job is making news. Easier said than done, but worth keeping in mind.

3) Read William Zinsser's book On Writing Well and apply it to all your communications. Specifically, write what you mean as simply as you can. Look at this for an example of what not to do: http://boingboing.net/2012/02/06/edward-norton-and-daria-wer...

What does that Norton quote actually say? "I liked working with these companies." That's not revealing or funny or interesting. The vast majority of executive quotes I see in press releases are like this. All they really say is "We think we have a good product." Yawn

4) Speaking of which, we hate quoting from press releases. Get someone important, like the CEO or CTO, to write a blog post that we can quote from.

5) I'm pretty technical for a journalist, but don't assume even the most technical of us are going to be able to decipher your string of buzzwords and jargon. Knowing what each word means individually doesn't mean we'll know what they mean when you use three or four of them together as a noun. Keep it simple.

6) Think about your subject line as a headline. Why would a reader read want to read your story? If a reader would want to read it, I as a journalist will want to read your e-mail. I get too many e-mails that just say "News from [some company I've never heard of]" or "big data announcement, time to talk?" I'd also throw a specific date into the subject line. Examples: "New open source operating system launches Tuesday" or "Data Released Today Shows MindFuck is the Fastest Growing Programming Language on the Web."

6) Even tech blogs want people stories. If you're stumped on how to pitch something in an interesting way, think about people. Things like ERP and tape backup are inherently boring. Find a fresh human angle. "How a big customer avoiding disaster with our solution" is a boring story. "How Dr. Steve Made a Medical Breakthrough by Studying Archival Data" or "How an Average Jane Worker Catapulted Her Career with a Simple Manufacturing Process Tweak" could be interesting stories.

Bookmarked! Great work. Thanks.

I'll add one thing that I've found so far:

They can take a long time to respond. One site got back to us several weeks later. A few days or more is very common.

Of course no response at all is by far the most common result, but just because they don't respond within a day or two doesn't mean they aren't interested. They get a TON of emails...

excatly. And it does not mean, that a journalist doesn't notice you. If a similar story comes up, he might remember your mail and call you up out of the blue.

great stuff as usual tdm!

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