I’m QUITE TIRED of dealing with MILLIONS of tech entrepreneurs (these days there are a HELL of a lot of you) and (some) PR people who have ZERO clue how to pitch me/TechCrunch/the media. Their pitches are long-winded and rambling. They ask if they could ‘send some more information’. Listen, I have no idea if it’s interesting or not until you send it! Many just ask me out to lunch or coffee. (Thanks, but I prefer hanging out with my *actual friends*). Even worse, they haven’t read this post or seen my presentation on how to deal with tech media. [2021 update: This is a basic outline for super-early startups. If you want something for Post Series A / later stage startups go here].
You see, if I took all these offers up I’d never have to pay for food or coffee again. (Here are a few ideas about why asking for lunch/coffee isn’t a great idea). But I’d also never get any work done. Yes, it is always better to try and form a working relationship with a journalist before pitching them an idea you think they might want to look into. It is always better to RESEARCH what the journalist generally writes about and who their title is aimed at. But you are not going to get your ‘foot in the door’ unless your first interactions are concise and to the point.
In the main all the questions listed below are the stock standard questions I would ask of any startup I had never heard of before. And they apply much more to new startups who have no clue how to approach the media. But, incredibly, I still get some PR people who can’t cover off these basic questions in their opening gambit. In either case, their opening lines are often a short email which amounts to “Hi, we exist. Can we have a post on Techcrunch now?” This, of course is utterly stupid.
The most solid pitches come when the startup relates what they do to a CURRENT news story of the day. For instance, say Apple just came out with a new kind of headphone, and your startup has a product relevant to music or headphones. THAT is when you should jump all over the media – while your story is current and you can get into the tail-wind of a hot story. Not 6 months later when we’ve all moved on and forgotten about headphones.
Many opening gambits are very simplistic emails which don’t answer basic questions. Many even say (WHY?!) “Can I send you a press release?”.
Are you kidding me? Are you really kidding me? Please don’t ask this. Just. Send. It.
The alternative is me wasting wasting a minute or so of my life replying to you with something like “Hey, so I have no idea if you should send me your press release or not because you know what’s in it and I don’t. So OK, sure, knock yourself out. Join the party in my inbox.”
(BTW you should read this piece on why your follow-up emails usually don’t work).
You are going to save us all time — and visits to psychiatrists — by simply addressing some basic questions FIRST.
In the industry, this called THE NARRATIVE.
Mostly, ‘press releases’ are written in the way a PR’s client would write a news story. They are usually pretty rambling and designed to please the client (read: stroke their ego) rather than assist the journalist to get shit done, and fast. So, I think the press release format is DEAD.
Instead, I have come up with a checklist of things you need to cover off at the opening pitch, before the process of further questions happens. I have EVEN (wow, I’m so helpful aren’t I?) prescribed the number of sentences you should use. Now, the eagle-eyed among you will realise that this is just a rough guide. If you can tell me why your company rocks in one sentence then great. Sure, 3 is fine. But if you have to do it in 50, then, I’m sorry, but you may have a problem understanding and communicating exactly what it is that you do.
Are you going to have to send me 70+ sentences? No. But you MUST at least try to address as many of these questions as possible. Putting it into an easy to digest format, so that the journalist can make a quick decision about whether to start talking to you or not, can be helpful. If this is not your style, then fine. Try something else. Write War And Peace. But I’m just trying to tell you that this is potentially going to save you and the journalist a lot of time. Time is a big deal in the media business…
Sure, granted, the final resulting article might well go into fine detail about what it is you do. It might even be a pretty long article. That’s for the journalist to decide. But if your FIRST interactions with the media is something akin to a chapter of War And Peace, then you have a problem. As I like to say, “50% of being a startup is about communication”. If you are trying to ‘change the world’, then you are going to have to communicate that.
In the first instance, before pitching what you THINK is news, you MUST make sure it actually IS news (like NEW, ‘never been published before’ new!) and follow this format. Savvy PR people will sign off the traditional press release (this product is the world’s leading yadda yadda) with the client but STILL use the below format AS WELL to ASSIST the journalist.
And PLEASE go read my slides and watch the video I have been using to educate startups for the last few years.
Meanwhile, I intend to write less news anyway, and concentrate more on opinion pieces and video.
Some tips: All TechCrunch writers can be emailed on Tips@TechCrunch.com (very high traffic, but it is read). And all European writers can be email on EuroNews [@] Techcrunch.com
If you just want me, I’m on mike [ @ ] techcrunch.com
A note on Subject lines and opening sentences: Subject lines should read like headlines: “Catty, the Uber-for-Cats, Raises A $20M Seed Round” (LOL!). Opening sentence should NOT Read: “Hi Mike, How are you? It’s hot in London huh?”. It should read: “Mike, With the news that Uber has expanded into on-demand Cat Delivery, I bring you a startup that is going to BLOW those guys out of the water and this is EXCLUSIVE for you.”
A final word:
A lot of this may sound incredibly arrogant. Perhaps it is.
I don’t dig coal for a living and the Taliban doesn’t shoot at me as part of my job. I’m lucky.
But Journalists have to parse a lot of information quickly now. It helps the sender out if they are told, in black and white, the best way to get noticed and maybe even read. That’s what this exercise was about.
FURTHER NOTES, POST PUBLICATION:
. Should you pitch via a tweet? e.g. “@mikebutcher Hello Mike, Just read Press Release Is Dead & thought you’d appreciate our startup app. We have users & can monetize. DM?” ANSWER: Exactly how much information can you get into this? Can you answer any of the questions below adequately? What do you think…? Here’s a better idea: Answer the below questions in a targeted email to the journalist, then @ reply to them on Twitter and say something pithy like : “Cat.ty is the uber for cat delivery, emailed you just now”. Get the idea?
. Never, ever, EVER contact a journalist and ask them to “Tweet out our startup”. Or anything similar. Tweets imply endorsement. To endorse it, the journalist would have to read all about the product/company/pitch otherwise they would not feel comfortable with tweeting something positive. And they just don’t have time. If they are not writing about the company, there is no incentive for them to bother other than out of personal interest. I get startups asking me to ‘upvote’ them on Product Hunt, or Re-Tweet their tweets. This is just plain insulting. We’re not here to be your free PR machines, EVEN if the person asking might be a friend. Have some professionalism. Do your own marketing. If a journalist, in a personal capacity, feels like Tweeting about a product they like then fine, they can do that. But they are not there to be asked to pimp products. They have real work to do besides anything else.
. If you have given a journalist an exclusive and somehow some other journalist gets hold of the story and publishes before the story was supposed to come out then do this: IMMEDIATELY tell the first journalist (the one you gave the story to) that the story has broken. Do it NOW. DO NOT WAIT until the time you agreed for publication and DO NOT wait for the first journalist to find out from someone/somewhere else that the story they have been SLAVING OVER has already broken. Why do this? Well, if the journalist you gave a story to now knows the story is out, they can rush to get their story out. You will have done them a great service. They will like you and think you are professional. But you must also explain how you think the story came out, such as the OTHER journalist turned out to be so good they found it on their own. But, getting back to your friendly journalist MAY also mean a much more favourable version (to you) of the story getting out faster. If you do not do this, then the first journalist will NEVER trust you to work with them again. But they won’t tell you. They will just think you are a piece of shit. You won’t even know it. And if you gave the story to more than one journalist and told ALL of them they ‘had the exclusive’ then perhaps think about changing your identity and moving countries.
 If you want to be dismembered by a former journalist who is now wanted for murder (yours), pitch them a story which already broke a month ago as if it’s “new”. Don’t tell them the product has already been written up. Then wait, as they simply Google the product’s name only to find Wired/The Times etc had it some time ago, and the ‘new’ angle you are pitching is that you opened an office in Belize, staffed by one guy and a donkey. Granted, the donkey was previously with HP. [Translation: Don’t pitch old stories as if they are new].
 A good way to stop a journalist from coming to your launch event (or any event) is to send them an invite in a pretty looking graphic which is basically impossible to extract information from or put into a calendar. This is really, really, dumb. At worst, send the information in plain text, so they can copy and past it it in their diary (impossible with a graphic). If you want to be REALLY smart, send them a *calendar invite* with all the relevant info in the notes section. Then all they have to do is click a Yes button and you are more likely to get them to come.
 Its generally not considered acceptable to offer an exclusive to more than one journalist. But what if they don’t respond? How much time would you consider legit to offer it to someone else? This depends. You would obviously have to give them a “reasonable” amount of time to respond. The decision also greatly depends on the journalist and what their normal ‘MO’ is and how important their outlet is to your strategy. I, for instance, am often on planes and between flights. But a lot of people wait for me to land and give them a yay or nay because TechCrunch is a big outlet…
 I can also recommend a less ranty post on this subject here.
 Just to re-iterate: When pitching a story, a PR or a startup must ALWAYS answer these questions: Who are the competitors? Why and how is your company better? And never, ever, say “We don’t have any competitors.” If you don’t have competitors then there is no market for your product. There is also no way for the journalist to frame your story or to better understand the problem you think you are solving. There is no such thing as a company with no competitors. Even if the product feels like a brand new category that has landed in a spaceship, the problem it is solving will still have been approached by someone else before, just in a different manner. Remember your Latin: nihil sub sole novum.
 “The Double Pitch”
Sometimes you will contact a journalist and either they will take forever to respond or they do respond, but then they take forever to come back to you. The temptation at that point is to give up on them and to contact another journalist at the same title. I can sympathise with the eager startup founder who is desperate to get their story out and into the media. But here is the problem. Journalists are jealous of their stories and if a contact approaches another colleague, first of all that is mildly insulting. They may just have been a bit busy. It doens;t mean they won’t reply. If you find yourself waiting several days, what you should do is ping them back, say something like “hey Mike, as it’s been a week since I initially contacted you and I haven’t heard back, I hope you don’t mind me contacting one of your colleagues about the story. I will chat to XXXX about it. Or let me know if you do in fact get time to come back to me about it.” You will then either hear back from the journalist or you will not, as they are going to assume you’ve moved on. That’s fine. So in other words, journalists don’t mind you contacting other colleagues so long as you’ve given then the option to respond (although the convention is to wait as long as possible for the first journalist to respond). But they do mind (a lot!) when a company contacts two journalists from their title, but does not explicitly say this to both journalists It’s called “double pitching”. What happens in a double pitch is that two journalists are unaware they have been contacted separately by the same company and both start working on a story. The worst case scenario is when they then both post an article (a “double post”). The company concerned might well like this, but the title and the journalists will hate you for causing this chaos because you have been underhand in your communication and tried to “game” several journalists from the same title into writing about you. It’s unlikely you’ll ever get covered again both by those journalists or that title ever again. Lastly, if you do eventually hear back from a journalist but they this is not a story they want to cover, do NOT go to one of their colleagues with EXACTLY the same pitch. Either send the first journalist a new pitch with a different angle, and try that, or have a think and maybe try another journalist with a DIFFERENT pitch. That may work for you. But if in the office the journalists (who do talk to eachother!) compare notes and find you are pitching the same thing over and over again to different colleagues, despite having being rejected, your company will quickly gain a reputation for being annoying, and that will affect your chances of getting covered.
 You’ve sent your pitch to a specific journalist. You wait, but the the journalist doesn’t get back to you. They are probably busy, rather than ignoring you. After a reasonable amount of time time (it very much depends on the person you are trying to reach and how senior they are and your relationship with them), then send it to the general editorial team. If you send it to another journalist on the same team, asking them to bug the first journalist (their colleague) about a pitch that the first journalist knows nothing about yet, this is bad form and wastes everyone’s time. There are few things more annoying as a journalist than having one of your colleagues bug you about some PR or startup “trying to reach you”. If you haven’t reached the journalist in the first place then tough damn luck. Keep trying or just send to the wider editorial team on that title. The best way to send this is saying something like “Hey guys, I sent it to [name of journo] but I think he/she is busy, so just hoping someone might want to pick this up. I’m here for any questions you might have” etc. Good luck!
 You’re frustrated. You pitched story to a journalist and through sporadic emails and messages they sound interested in your story and either committed to doing something and are just late getting to it, or they go quiet. Here’s the best strategy: You tell them they your realise they are busy and may not even have time to reply, then you give them a deadline. Like, “if I don’t hear back by tomorrow I’ll assume you are busy and we’ll reach out to other media.” Here’s the absolute worse response: hitting up that journalist’s editor. This will land you in trouble, unless you have a really genuine compliant (the journalist was incredibly rude etc). If you really want to piss-off a journalist and a title, tweet about them and copy in their editor. This will pretty much guarantee the title will never cover you again.
 WASTING POLITICAL CAPITAL WITH JOURNALISTS – COMMON MISTAKES
Common mistake 1:
Do not pitch a journalist with “X wrote about Y”. Example conversation: ”We were covered by The New York Times! Do you want to write about us?” “Ok, but what’s new?” “Nothing, but we think YOUR readers really need to hear about us!” You are implying they shouldn’t have been included in the first round of pitches. This is a guaranteed way to destroy the relationship immediately because it means they are not a priority to pitch to.
Common mistake 2:
“Circling back” / repeating the email “blind” (as in, after getting no response) more than twice. If the journalist didn’t reply to your email on the first or second time, it’s either because a) they are busy or b) you fell into the spam filter (in which case your company needs to take a look at itself) c) they are working on the story but don’t want to set up expectations on timing, because, well, shit changes. Lesson? Build a normal relationship first!
Common mistake 3:
Ask to meet with Reporter B when you have already worked several times with Reporter A on the team. This just says, Reporter A is “not that important, I’m moving on”.
Common mistake 4:
Another mistake: Ask to meet with Reporter C because they covered a story. This is a waste of time as, if someone else covered it, clearly the reporter you asked does NOT cover it. Just go direct. Don’t waste your political capital with the first reporter.
Common mistake 5:
Blind pitch simply because a journalist is on an attendee list for a conference. The title may not even BE GOING. Or they have already set up coverage. So, just ask politely first if they are going. Don’t waste your political capital here.
Key questions a journalist will ask you about your startup
Answer with a SHORT paragraph.
Answer with a SHORT paragraph.
NAME OF COMPANY
IN SIMPLE TERMS, WHAT DOES THIS STARTUP / PRODUCT DO?
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM THIS COMPANY IS SOLVING?
HOW HAS THIS PRODUCT SOLVED THE STATED PROBLEM?
DESCRIBE HOW THIS PRODUCT WAS CREATED? WAS IT A PERSONAL PROBLEM YOU HAD?
WALK ME THROUGH THE USER EXPERIENCE:
WHAT SORT OF “TRACTION” CAN YOU DEMONSTRATE?
(e.g. Monthly or daily active users, downloads. sales etc )
WHO ARE YOUR COMPETITORS? Literally, NAME the companies.
(This is crucial to understand the context opf the market)
WHAT ARE THE KEY DIFFERENTIATORS BETWEEN YOU AND OTHER PLAYERS?
WHY IS THIS PRODUCT BETTER THAN ITS COMPETITORS?
HOW DO YOU MAKE (OR PLAN TO MAKE) MONEY?
HOW BIG IS THE MARKET IT IS ADDRESSING?
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE NEWS *RIGHT NOW* THAT MAKES THIS COMPANY PARTICULARLY RELEVANT? (e.g. the rise of AI etc)
(If relevant to the news) WHAT IS THE NEW ROUND OF FUNDING AND HOW MUCH IS IT?
(Required: Specify Seed, Series A, etc)
WHEN IS THIS STORY RELEASED?
IS THERE AN EMBARGO? WHEN IS IT? IS THIS AN EXCLUSIVE etc?
WHO ARE THE INVESTORS?
WHAT WILL THE MONEY BE USED FOR?
IF YOU ARE “BOOTSTRAPPED”:
– ARE YOU FUNDING IT YOURSELF?
– ARE YOU RUNNING ON REVENUES?
– ARE YOU LOOKING FOR FUNDING? WHEN?
WHO IS IN THE TEAM AND WHY ARE THEY AWESOME?
DO THE FOUNDERS HAVE A COMPELLING PERSONAL STORY IN SOME WAY?
WHAT DID THEY DO BEFORE? DO THEY DEMONSTRATE PRIOR EXPERTISE?
WHERE IS THE TEAM BASED? IS IT THE SAME AS THE COMPANY HQ?
ALL EXTRA INFORMATION MUST BE SENT IN EMAIL IN PLAIN TEXT (Please do not attach PDFs, Word docs etc)
*LINKS* TO PRESS KIT / PRODUCT VIDEOS / PHOTOS etc:
NAMES FOR FOUNDERS:
IMPORTANT – LINKS TO PREVIOUS RELEVANT STORIES ABOUT YOUR COMPANY:
ANY RELEVANT OTHER INFORMATION?
*LINKS* TO SCREEN SHOTS OF MOBILE APP IF RELEVANT
Note: Do not send screen shots of apps which are surrounded by explanatory information around the app. Just plain screen shots of the app. Nothing else.