Ever since the Great Recession and the transition towards digital sparked a media downturn, leading publications have been hiring fewer writers. At the same time, more and more new startups are emerging every year, with roughly 10 percent more startups emerging in the U.S between 2015 and 2014. This leaves hundreds of thousands of new startups battling for their moment in the spotlight, and overworked journalists struggling to deal with the oppressive amount of email traffic they receive each day. Knowing how to make your announcement stand out from the crowd is key.
Everybody thinks their new product is the “next great idea” but experienced journalists are trained to view these claims with nothing but hard-nosed skepticism. Each pitch they receive is assessed based on the value it brings to the wider conversation, not just how "cool" the product is. The market is saturated with startup announcements, which means that it takes more to cut through the noise.
Here are the five main criteria journalists consider when deciding whether a story is newsworthy for their publication.
1. Does the story tie into a larger trend?
Staying on top of trends is extremely important in the world of startups. Spotting trends early allows companies to come up with new products sure to get attention, or modify their existing plans to jump on the bandwagon as a new trend takes off.
According to Maya Kosoff, the biggest trends for 2015 are virtual reality, improving enterprise software design and machine learning/big data. This doesn't mean you are in trouble unless your company designs virtual reality headsets that allow users to analyze big data to improve enterprise software, but trends play a big part in deciding which announcements are newsworthy.
If your product or service is not trending, it should at least follow consumer trends. AllBusiness offers four trends based on consumer demand for products and services which: do things faster, are affordable, are online/technologically advanced and offer a personalized service. Journalists are likely to assess a new product based on whether it meets these demands.
2. Is the company mission large enough?
Scott Wylie argues that having a clear mission and vision statement is an essential first step for any entrepreneur or company of any size. Journalists grow tired of hearing that every pitched product is going to “disrupt” an industry, but at the same time, having a clear vision of what your company does, and why it is important, will improve your chances of getting picked up.
Explaining why your company will evolve into a $100M enterprise because your product or service will change the world for the better may sound arrogant, but is undoubtedly important. Backing up these claims with social proof and evidence will separate your pitch from the thousands of competitors flooding journalists inboxes.
Your company mission statement should be concise and specific so that journalists (and your customers) understand your purpose and how your company provides value to them. Amazon (“Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online” and Google (“to organize all of the data in the world and make it accessible for everyone in a useful way.”) are good examples.
Vision statements should reflect your company’s purpose and core values and be broad enough to last for the long haul. Companies such as HP and IBM have never changed their vision statements, even though their business models have gone through a number of evolutions.
3. Does the team have social proof?
Nick Morgan, author of How to Tell Great Business Stories, said “in a world where people have a lot of choices, the story may be the deciding factor.” While your background story is second to the importance of your product and service, interesting founder stories catch people’s attention long enough to show them what you have to offer.
If Mark Zuckerberg’s sister starts selling handcut wooden spoons in San Francisco, the chances are it will be get picked up by the press. Not everyone has friends (or family) in high places, but it is important to look at the back-story and social proof of the core team, and make any interesting differences obvious to journalists.
The difference could be due to age (17 or 70) background (ex-con, war veteran, single parent of five kids) family or social connections (Zuckerberg’s sister/Trump’s hairdresser), education (Harvard or home-schooled) or former employment (former CEO of successful company or former garbage collector). Any information that helps you stand out from the crowd should be placed directly under the noses of journalists when pitching to them.
Also be sure to mention any previous traction your company has achieved and any notable investors who have come onboard.
4. Is your company design strong enough?
Once you have the journalist’s attention, they are going to research your company online, by checking out your official website, founder LinkedIn profiles, social media pages and everything else they can gather. Building a strong online presence is critical in an increasingly digital world. Hire talented designers and programmers to make your sites look sharp and professional.
If your website looks like it has been designed in a high-school computing class, it is unlikely to inspire much confidence in journalists, potential investors or customers. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its front cover, but if you front cover is tacky and badly designed, journalists are unlikely to make it any further.
5. Has your announcement been covered before?
When approaching journalists, it is important to have a real announcement. Company launches, new products, partnerships, funding goals and acquisitions are all things that journalists like to write about.
Offering journalists an exclusive will greatly improve your chances of getting picked up. That said, honesty is the best policy. Don’t offer "exclusives" to more than one journalist at one time, or "news" that has been covered before. Chances are you will get caught out and that journalist (and possibly the publication they work for) won't work with you again.
Journalists from leading publications receive hundreds of emails every day. A good idea just isn't enough nowadays. The Internet is brimming with technical tips for writing clear and concise pitches, but it is the substance within the pitches that will really decide the fate of your announcement. It is unlikely that your company will check every box listed in this article, but with every tick increases your chances of getting covered in a leading publication.