I’m UTTERLY SICK and TIRED of dealing with MILLIONS of tech entrepreneurs (these days there are a HELL of a lot of you) and (some) PR people who have ZERO clue how to pitch me/TechCrunch/the media. Their pitches are long-winded and rambling. They ask if they could ‘send some more information’, as if I care. I have no idea if it’s interesting or not until you send it! Many just ask me out to lunch or coffee. (Thanks, but I prefer drinks, and I also prefer drinks with my *actual friends* — fine if you have somehow become someone I like to drink with!). You see, if I took all these offers up I’d never have to pay for food or coffee again. (Here are a few ideas about why asking for lunch/coffee isn’t a great idea). But I’d also never get any work done. Yes, it is always better to try and form a working relationship with a journalist before pitching them an idea you think they might want to look into. It is always better to RESEARCH what the journalist generally writes about and who their title is aimed at. But you are not going to get your ‘foot in the door’ unless your first interactions are concise and to the point.
In the main all the below applies much more to new startups who have no clue how to approach the media but, incredibly, I still get some PR people who can’t cover off these basic questions in their opening gambit. In either case, their opening lines are often a short email which amounts to “Hi, we exist. Can we have a post on Techcrunch now?” This, of course is utterly stupid.
The most solid pitches come when the startup relates what they do to a CURRENT news story of the day. For instance, say Apple just came out with a new kind of headphone, and your startup has a product relevant to music or headphones. THAT is when you should jump all over the media – while your story is current and you can get into the tail-wind of a hot story. Not 6 months later when we’ve all moved on and forgotten about headphones.
Many opening gambits are very simplistic emails which don’t answer basic questions. Many even say (WHY?!) “Can I send you a press release?”.
Are you kidding me? Are you really kidding me?
I am now going to have to waste 10 seconds of my life replying to you with something like “Hey, so I have no idea if you should send me your press release or not because you know what’s in it and I don’t. So OK, sure, knock yourself out. Join the party in my inbox.”
(BTW you should read this piece on why your follow-up emails usually don’t work).
You are going to save us all time — and visits to psychiatrists — by simply addressing some basic questions FIRST.
Mostly, ‘press releases’ are written in the way a PR’s client would write a news story. They are usually pretty rambling and designed to please the client (read: stroke their ego) rather than assist the journalist to get shit done, and fast. So, I think the press release format is DEAD.
Instead, I have come up with a checklist of things you need to cover off at the opening pitch, before the process of further questions happens. I have EVEN (wow, I’m so helpful aren’t I?) prescribed the number of sentences you should use. Now, the eagle-eyed among you will realise that this is just a rough guide. If you can tell me why your company rocks in one sentence then great. Sure, 3 is fine. But if you have to do it in 50, then, I’m sorry, but you may have a problem understanding and communicating exactly what it is that you do.
Are you going to have to send me 70+ sentences? No. But you MUST at least try to address as many of these questions as possible. Putting it into an easy to digest format, so that the journalist can make a quick decision about whether to start talking to you or not, can be helpful. If this is not your style, then fine. Try something else. Write War And Peace. But I’m just trying to tell you that this is potentially going to save you and the journalist a lot of time. Time is a big deal in the media business…
Sure, granted, the final resulting article might well go into fine detail about what it is you do. It might even be a pretty long article. That’s for the journalist to decide. But if your FIRST interactions with the media is something akin to a chapter of War And Peace, then you have a problem. As I like to say, “50% of being a startup is about communication”. If you are trying to ‘change the world’, then you are going to have to communicate that.
In the first instance, before pitching what you THINK is news, you MUST make sure it actually IS news (like NEW, ‘never been published before’ new!) and follow this format. Savvy PR people will sign off the traditional press release (this product is the world’s leading yadda yadda) with the client but STILL use the below format AS WELL to ASSIST the journalist.
And PLEASE go read my slides and watch the video I have been using to educate startups for the last few years.
Meanwhile, I intend to write less news anyway, and concentrate more on opinion pieces and video.
Some tips: All TechCrunch writers can be emailed on Tips@TechCrunch.com (very high traffic, but it is read). And all European writers can be email on EuroNews [@] Techcrunch.com
If you just want me, I’m on mike [ @ ] techcrunch.com
A note on Subject lines and opening sentences: Subject lines should read like headlines: “Catty, the Uber-for-Cats, Raises A $20M Seed Round” (LOL!). Opening sentence should NOT Read: “Hi Mike, How are you? It’s hot in London huh?”. It should read: “Mike, With the news that Uber has expanded into on-demand Cat Delivery, I bring you a startup that is going to BLOW those guys out of the water and this is EXCLUSIVE for you.”
A final word:
A lot of this may sound incredibly arrogant. Perhaps it is.
I don’t dig coal for a living and the Taliban doesn’t shoot at me as part of my job. I’m lucky.
But Journalists have to parse a lot of information quickly now. It helps the sender out if they are told, in black and white, the best way to get noticed and maybe even read. That’s what this exercise was about.