I’ve been writing for ArcticStartup for some time now, and I’ve seen some startups play the media game better than others. In a way to mutually help each other get better content on the web, here are some tips on how to pitch to ArcticStartup and other media. Most of this is common sense stuff, but by laying it out all out there might help avoid some rookie mistakes.

While we’ve got some practical tips below, what really helps get best coverage of your startup is building relationships with writers. Some of the best ways to do so involves sending smaller updates by email or Skype, and engaging the writers over twitter or through comments in their articles. This was really emphasized by Jyri Engeström in a past article on ArcticStartup when he launched Ditto doing the PR himself.

Using a PR agency

If you’re not the type of founder who enjoys reaching out to the media yourself, believe it or not there are plenty of people who will do it for your for money. PR firms sometimes have the advantage of already having a rapport with the journalists who might pick up your story. And if they don’t, they still should help you spread the word and avoid rookie mistakes. Last September, Christina Forgård of the Helsinki-based PR firm Netprofile gave some tips on The Golden Rules Of PR, which are worth taking a look at.

Press releases suck.

A wall of bland text filled with hyperbolic quotes from the chairman of your board are not any journalist’s creative muse. That being said, press releases fit nicely in your press resources and might get picked up in unexpected places if you put them in the right places. If you do decide to send out a press release here are some tips to make them a little less soul crushing:

  • Tell why things are happing, not just what has happened.
  • Include plenty of numbers and graphs.
  • Explain what your startup actually does, even though it’s obvious to you.
  • If you put in quotes from the CEO or similar, make them actually useful and interesting, rather than ridiculous PR speak.

Perfect Pitch

Rather than press releases, I’ve come to really appreciate it when entrepreneurs shoot bullet points to my inbox. The perfect way I’ve been pitched a story is is to send an email with an introductory paragraph explaining who you are and why you’ve built what you’ve built. Then hit the writer with some bullet points with facts and figures on the what’s and how’s, and be sure to include facts and figures on your market and the traction you’ve seen.

Rather than trying to tell everything upfront in an press release, this way you’re getting some gears turning in the writer’s head, which leads to them asking questions and think about their own angle on the story.

In the same email, it’s handy to also give a link to your startup’s press page, and link to any videos that can be embedded. If you don’t have a press page, then also be sure to attach some logos and reasonably-sized images that would look good in the post. There are a couple services out there to help easily send press packages, but something as simple as sharing the files over Dropbox public links, or Ge.tt also make our lives easier.

Also, writers are suckers for narratives. If you’ve got a compelling story of something that’s happened, tell a writer about it. The same goes for big macro trends in your industry. You’ve got eyes and ears in places writers don’t, so if you see some big shifts worth noting, tell a writer about it and you’ll likely be quoted as an expert.

Embargos

The real impetus for this post came from us getting annoyed at three situations involving embargoes over the last couple weeks.  If you’re not familiar with the term, an embargo is the time and date you give permission for some news to be published. It allows journalists to dig deeper into your announcement instead of racing to be the first to get your news first to press. Rather than us just complaining about embargo issues back and forth over Friday beers, we’re going to turn these into teaching moments.

Starting off, the first situation I have to complain about is a “wait until ____ publishes it first” embargo, perhaps one of the least-inspiring embargoes you can get. As a regional startup-news blog I realize we may not be the highest on the totem pole, but just as a matter of principle we strongly believe that if you’re going to give multiple news organizations information beforehand, you should treat them all equally.

It comes across an insult to be told to wait patiently for another publication, and as a result I go from being excited about your news, to being kind of pissed off about your company. Also, there’s really no value in setting up a phony exclusive with a single news source by letting them hit the publish button first. Send your embargoed news to the most news sources possible, and if you’re news is worth writing about, you’ll get much better reach.

In the second embargo situation, I hate to say it but we accidentally broke an embargo due to poor communication. An entrepreneur gave us an inexact time and date of when some hinted news could go out, and the morning the day the news was to be released I received a press release in my inbox from their PR firm without any embargo mentioned, and I pushed out their news.

In my defense, news releases change all the time and it’s the standard practice for PR firms to spam every email with the embargo. Being sent an un-embargoed press release from a PR firm I’ve never been in contact with looks like a public press release, and I hurried to get it out the news before it was no longer “news”. In retrospect, I should have double-checked with the entrepreneur, and the PR firm really should have really put the embargo somewhere on the press release. The moral of the story: be crystal clear about when you want your embargoes to lift, and maybe even send a reminder email the day the embargo lifts. It may even help with the following situation.

The third embargo situation was likely a purposely broken embargo by another news org. Techcrunch broke the Kiosked funding embargo by about two hours (it wasn’t even on the hour, making it tough to claim as a scheduling error), and it spread bad karma all around. We were able to follow up somewhat quickly, and some other bigger publications still followed, but it’s not unheard of that news blogs will no longer cover something anymore if they don’t have the story ready and it’s now longer fresh news.

Just to keep you entrepreneurs in the know, TechCrunch is the only organization I’ve noticed that really has a systemic problem telling time. I’ve heard the exact phrase, “I don’t know what happened!” enough times from entrepreneurs that I’m letting you know: hey, this’ll happen. So if you do decide to give them some embargoed content, maybe you should send a friendly followup email about the embargo on the day of the release, and see if that keeps ’em honest.

It’s in your best interest to keep the embargoes running smooth. It helps you get the widest possible reach of your news. And almost by definition, if you’re sending out embargoed information, something awesome has happened and you want to tell the world about it. The day the embargo lifts should be a day of high-fives, and not a day of some blogs shutting out your news, or a day of angry phone calls from journalists who feel wronged.

What is this all good for, anyway?

Getting covered by startup media can help get your name out in front of investors, potential employees, and maybe even a few early adopters. One story about your company has the potential to spawn many others around the net, but still I worry if founders place too much weight on the startup noise machine. Yes, your friends might be listening, but getting covered by ArcticStartup and the international blogs should not be your complete go-to-market strategy.

Top image CC licensed by NS Newsflash on Flickr.

Second image CC licensed by el patojo on Flickr.

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