The 4 P’s of marketing: Can you name them? If you can't, get to know them. They're product, placement, price and promotion. And you’ve probably already spent a lot of time on the first three.
Now, however, it’s time to focus on the fourth, promotion -- to get the word out about your fabulous, can't-live-without-it product or service or company as a whole. And here, the best form of early promotion for many startups is PR coverage. Getting seasoned journalists at credible publications to talk about your business can validate your company and help attract those first, elusive customers.
Sounds easy, right? Just send a quick email blast to some high-profile reporters and wait for the barrage of interview requests to pour in? I thought so too when my company, Pressboard, launched last year. But after several failed attempts at outreach, and after hearing similar stories from others, I wondered, why do so many startups have such a difficult time getting press coverage?
To find out what reporters are really looking for, Josh Catone, a former editor at Mashable, and I surveyed over a dozen reporters, writers and editors at some of North America’s most prominent tech publications. Here’s what we found that they look for in a story pitch:
1. It's interesting.
This may seem obvious, but the reporters we spoke to receive hundreds of pitches each week, and only cover about 1 percent to 2 percent of them. Is your story unique enough to make the cut?
To make sure it is, start with what makes your company or product different from everybody else's. Chelsea Stark, who writes about video games for Mashable, told us that, “On my beat, I see a lot of derivative products, so it's nice for someone to lead with what's different.”
A good test is to ask yourself: If this wasn’t your own company or client, would you want to read this story? If you’re hesitating even a bit here, there’s a good chance you need to find a more interesting story to tell.
2. It emphasizes people over numbers.
Owen Thomas, editor-in-chief at ReadWrite, told us that the number one thing he looks for in a quality pitch is “a personal story. Something real that actually happened to a human being.”
Human narratives tend to be more interesting than facts and figures alone. Stories help us relate to one another and develop empathy for things we previously didn’t understand.
Telling a personal narrative forms an emotional connection with the reporter, and with his or her readers.
3. It gets to the point -- quickly.
Your email subject line might be the only thing a busy reporter will ever see, so make it count. Summing up your entire story pitch in a few words is never easy; there’s a reason that Upworthy writes 25 headlines for every story it publishes.
“Why is this news important, and can you explain that to me in a paragraph? If it takes longer than a few sentences to get to the point, you've lost my interest,” said Natt Garun, U.S. editor of The Next Web.
So, explain your story and why it matters as quickly as possible.
4. You yourself can respond quickly.
“Be available. If it’s a good pitch, you’re going to get a reply back, but news gets stale fast, so you have to be prepared to handle follow-ups promptly,” said Knowlton Thomas, managing editor of Techvibes.
It is highly unlikely that a reporter will pick up your pitch and write a story based entirely on your initial email or press release. So, make sure you are available to speak with reporters, offering additional information about your product, service, company or whatever it is you pitched.
5. You remember that reporters are people too.
Many of the reporters we contacted emphasized how spending time building a relationship goes a long way toward increasing the chance they’ll cover your story.
Personalizing your pitches is a must. Get to know the publication, the reporter and his or her beat, but eschew the superficial comments.
Garun of The Next Web nicely summed up what reporters are looking for, saying: “The [pitches] that stand out are the same as any headline you read on the news -- it stands out because it's different or unique.”