The world of PR can be a bit of a confusing place for most startups. Toeing the perfect line between a well-crafted press push and just being pushy is an art form. Likewise, journalists can be a temperamental bunch, often faced with a barrage of story pitches with little to no relevance due to badly researched outreach or lame press kits. For this reason learning how to pitch a good story is a valuable skill to have for your startup and one we have been working hard to develop.
When the time came for our recent Kickstarter campaign, we had to quickly figure out how to serve up the right story… at the right time… to the right person with the right spin to get articles written. We are far from experts but made a few good and bad moves when it came to press. To put it simply, we found that it comes down to four key things need to be kept in mind when you want to drum up support amongst journalists: Timing, Research, Angle and Materials.
Here are a few of our learnings in hopes that you’re next PR plan will benefit:
1. Think about Timing
Whatever people say — there are good times to get press and not as good times. Whether it be promoting a conference, event or product have specific moments when articles are most impactful and times when they aren’t — journalists have an implicit understanding of this, and so should you.
As a rule, your story is interesting/newsworthy when:
A. Something Has Launched.
New product has launched, Crowdfunding campaign etc…
B. Outside Forces Have Made You Relevant.
This happens when a bigger company does something related to you or there’s an important piece of news related to something you did. An example might be when Apple releases a product related to you and you can ride the coattails or you are nominated for a big award and can pitch your particular perspective on it to cast yourself as the focus.
This should be done with a clear understanding of how you add a new facet to the existing story or allow the journalist to spin the story from a new angle to include you and differentiate themselves from other articles.
Impact is everything, and getting press at the wrong time increases fatigue for potential supporters in the long run for times when you really need coverage. Be selective about when you build buzz and when you don’t.
2. Do Your Research
The most time consuming (but important) part of doing a press push will be the research phase — figuring out who to talk with, how to reach them and why they might be interested to make the right pitch.
Make a List of Journalists.
Right off the bat you should make a list of journalists. If you have been in the game for awhile its likely that you have at least a few dozen publications off the top of your head. However, once you are tapped out there are a number of simple ways to find smaller publications to reach out to.
Look for Similar Stories.
Doing a crowdfunding campaign? Great. Find 20+ other successful campaigns that are similar to yours and see where they were covered and which journalists wrote about them.
Google ‘Best Blog for…’ Lists
A lot of our backers for our Kickstarter would find us through blogs about gadget or lifestyle blogs geared toward men. We weren’t regular readers of these genres but quickly amassed a list of 30–40 smaller blogs that we could contact.
Use Twitter Keywords
A lot of the time its easier to go through twitter to track certain trends or topics. We would regularly search #homeautomation, #smarthome #IoT etc and find relevant blogs, journalists and people to reach out to. Twitter also shows you ‘other people to follow’ — so if you start following journalists, you get more journalists recommended.
Prioritize List of Journalists.
Once you have your massive list of relevant journalists it’s good to prioritize the list into three broad categories both based on likelihood they will write about your and overall reach of their publication.
‘Wishlist’ or Top Priority Press: These are the people that both have written something similar to your story, are posting on widely known platforms and are currently active. These are the people you want to pitch to personally and offer exclusive interviews to with first dibs on the story.
Relevant Press: These are people that are either writing similar things or writing for well known publications — but probably not both. They may not be in your first round of press outreach for the best ‘scoop’ but will be a day for two following.
Other Press: This is the ‘everyone else’ list for the purpose of making a massive PR blast. This is good to do because it may yield some trickle-down articles or just keep people up to date on your project. In this list it’s best to go for quantity over quality and write one succinct form e-mail with media kit attached.
3. Find an Angle
Your reason for seeking press coverage is not the same as the story you’re pitching, likewise journalists that see a story already published (particularly on a similar blog) they may be less inclined to write about you without a new scoop.
If your angle is simply that you launched a Kickstarter- keep in mind that probably no one cares...
While you may want stories written to drive traffic — journalists want to cover newsworthy topics from unique angles. The goal here is to make it easy for them by offering some ideas of how your story can be told. Give some specific angles they might write about, this is a good way to vary the coverage and also direct journalists to important aspects of your story.
Make sure when doing this, you can back your angles up and that you’re pitching relevant angles to the journalists.
4. Provide Great Materials
The classic approach to press outreach always includes drafting a press release. While these documents are helpful — sometimes journalists find them useless and uninspiring. As Mike Butcher of TechCrunch put it not so subtly — ‘the press release format is DEAD’ and you may need to make a judgement call about what is most appropriate when distributing press materials.
At the very least there are a few important rules to follow when putting together a press kit:
Make it SIMPLE.
Structure the folder, documents and location of the kit to be as simple as possible. This means make it one link that someone has access — don’t send files that must be downloaded and don’t put ambiguous names on anything. Make getting access to what you need in the press kit as simple as possible for someone.
Make it Scannable.
Lots of people try and put as much information as possible into the press kit in hopes that it will tell the story for them. The truth is that the press kit is only to provide access and basic info. Don’t bother writing massive one-pagers about vision because hopefully — the journalist will just ask you directly. Instead structure all documents to be easy scanned for important info.
Maximize Visuals, Minimize Text
For online magazines, blogs etc — the key thing is access to great visual material. We usually make sure to offer lower-res photos for web and hi-res for print in our package as well as a number of options for product and lifestyle photos. If a number of press outlets cover you, they appreciate the option to select from different photos to accompany the story. Likewise, for some blogs visuals take priority over written text so take care in preparing these.
Use an Embargo
When distributing press materials, remember that you can do this before the launch of your story. Journalists like it because they get the scoop early — however you will want to note that there is an ‘embargo’ on the story until a certain date. In use we have found this is more of a handshake agreement than actual contract, but it’s a good way to make sure people know the information is time sensitive.
Once you have your targeted journalists, materials and angles — it’s time to start outreach. This takes a lot of time - and a little bit of luck but with the right approach you should be able to press play, send the e-mails and get that buzz going.
All-in-all getting articles written about you is a game of luck. This is why lots of people look to work with an agency for major stories. Regardless of whether you work with a professional or agency, it’s good to keep in mind the basics.