Pitching to the Press, A 3-Step Primer
Hai Truong

In the early stages of your startup, press coverage could seem like the golden ticket to get your business in front of the right customer or investor. However, take a moment to consider the sheer volume of requests that journalists and writers get on a daily basis. Applying empathy and being strategic about what is newsworthy could net you more favorable results and keep you from spinning your wheels. In this primer, we will walk you through the basics to help you avoid unnecessary headaches and heartache.

1.) KISS (Keep it Short and Simple)

According to this piece by The Next Web, media outlets want to hear pitches as long as they are relevant and get to the point. Avoid hyperbole, buzz words like "disruption" and now ubiquitous terms like "unique" or "revolutionary." Once pertinent and descriptive, these words are now often overused and become another reason for a writer to send your request right to the trash bin. Instead, get to the core of what problem your startup solves, how it does this, and why it is different from the competition. Don't feel like you need to use 500 words to explain if you can do it in 200 or less. However, if there is some technical background you need to provide, avoid jargon and speak in plain terms. When applicable, provide a link to a screencast of your offering in action. Seeing is believing.

2.) Get Personal and Research

It's not enough to send a generic pitch and BCC a list of 400+ people to get your startup on the radar of a media outlet. Instead, consider every outlet that may be relevant. They could be local, regional, or a niche blog that covers your industry or market. Before reaching out to them and asking for something, get to know them. Interact with their content, and build a rapport. This approach won't work for every person you reach out to, and akin to dating, it's all about compatibility. According to this write-up from Buzzsumo interviewing writers ranging from Techcrunch to the New York Times, they value when people take the time to research their beat. A bonus for writers is when people ask them what they need or want before being pitched. When media outlets are getting 50-100+ emails a day, the email they receive from a person they already know is going to stand out above the rest. Above all, position your pitch to explain why this should matter to them. Remember, you are providing value to their readers first, not sending an advertisement disguised as helpful information.

3.) Determine if Your Announcement is Newsworthy

In an interview with Facebook's VP of Technology Communications, Caryn Marooney, First Round shares the RIBS test as a tool for determining whether a message will pass muster.

Relevant: Who cares about the solution you are providing? What's the most important thing about the problem you are solving that's pertinent to this audience? Why should people care about your solution?

Inevitable: Is the solution you are providing something that makes sense intrinsically? Can people see it realistically being used right now? Your goal is to communicate in a way that makes the reporter/writer see that your solution will become a new norm or be part of a larger movement. Otherwise, you will have a hard time getting people to buy into the vision you are proposing.

Believable: After you have achieved relevance and proven inevitability, you need to show why your startup is the one to provide the solution. Articulating your company's story in an honest and relatable way is one way of rallying belief. Be prepared to talk to the press you are pitching and don't shy away from humility and candidness about the steps your company took to get to where it is. Mistakes are human and relatable; humblebrags will assuredly get you dismissed quickly.

Simple: One of the hardest things to do in an environment bloated with jargon and hyperbole, is keeping your solution as simple as possible. If you can solve one of the world's biggest problems but it takes 100 steps to get there, you will find it hard to get someone excited. However, if you can solve a major everyday problem, and it only requires someone to make a minor adjustment to their daily routine--then you might get people interested enough to share your story.

Now that you have the building blocks to cultivate meaningful relationships with writers and decide what you should pitch, here is some additional information if you want a final checklist to run through before hitting send on that email.