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This article was published on March 3, 2020

6 cringeworthy mistakes founders make when pitching journalists

6 cringeworthy mistakes founders make when pitching journalists
Yessi Bello Perez
Story by

Yessi Bello Perez

Former Senior Writer, Growth Quarters

Getting press coverage can be invaluable for technology startups. It can help founders attract prospective customers and give you an extra edge when you approach venture capital investors for funding.

Although there’s a shortage of funds in the early days, and founders usually do their own PR outreach, not being able to hire a professional shouldn’t always mean you miss out on coverage opportunities.

Here are some of the biggest — and most common — mistakes made by founders when they pitch journalists and this is how you can avoid them.

Not researching the journalist

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Research is key. Too many founders fire off emails to journalist without having done proper research first.

[Read: Why you should re-think your ‘one size fits all’ content strategy]

Before you contact a journalist, look into the individual’s interests and their beat. Read their work, follow them on Twitter, and if you have something to say about a specific topic, interact with them.

Bothering to do the groundwork off the bat will make your pitch stand out. The journalist is much more likely to pay attention if they can see you’ve taken the time to research them and their work. But be careful if you’re using an old article as a reference for your pitch, make sure they’re still covering similar topics as they may have switched beats.

If you want to go after a specific outlet, research it thoroughly. Look at what’s been covered in the past and think about how your story can add to the conversation. Avoid pitching repeat stories or angles.

Forgetting about goals

It’s important to consider what outlets you want to pitch and think about how your business could benefit from their audience.

If you are a consumer driven brand, there’s probably little value in being featured in a business-to-business outlet.

Similarly, if you are looking to acquire new customers, you’re much better off pitching consumer focused outlets.

There is of course no reason why you can’t target both for different reasons, but whatever you do, make sure you align your coverage and business goals before you start your outreach.

Missing out the detail

Once you’ve done your research and thought about your goals, it’s time to start thinking about your pitch.

Journalists get hundreds of emails a day, so it’s crucial that you make your pitch stand out.

[Read: Why your startup should market content, instead of your product]

If you are sending a press release, make sure you include a few lines outlining why you think it’s a relevant story for the specific journalist you’re contacting but keep this short and concise. And make sure you address the correct journalist, spell their name correctly, and try to use the correct pronouns — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called ‘Mr Yassi.’ Also, addressing your recipient as ‘Dear Journalist‘ simply won’t cut it.

Include the press release in the body of the email — don’t send it as an attachment — and if you have them, attach any images. Make life easy for the journalist and try and include all the information you have in the email.

Overcomplicating matters

It’s understandable that founders get excited when they talk about the business they’ve built from the ground up, but remember to rein it in when you approach a journalist.

Don’t bury the lede and make the journalist comb through your email to understand what you’re doing. Be concise, transparent, write in plain English, and get straight to the point. Then you can explain what your company does and why it does it.

Being unprofessional

As a founder, you represent the business, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot and make sure you are professional at all times.

Stick to professional pitching channels (aka email) and don’t message journalists on the personal platforms (Facebook or Whatsapp) unless you have a really close working relationship.

[Read: What I learned about PR pitching from the reporters I keep spamming]

If you don’t hear back within a few days, feel free to chase, but don’t overdo it. There’s a fine line between being enthusiastic and coming across as unnecessarily pushy.

Finally, if a journalist passes on your story, ask for feedback (but don’t always expect to get it), and take the response gracefully. Don’t lose touch with that journalist and continue to send them relevant updates, that way you’ll stay on their radar.

Selling and lack of transparency

Pitching to the media isn’t about selling, it’s about telling your story.

It is not the journalist‘s job to promote you or your business, so don’t push your agenda, because it won’t work. Don’t over-inflate your numbers and don’t embellish the truth.

If you offer an exclusive, stick to your word, and don’t pitch the story elsewhere. If you do offer it elsewhere under embargo, communicate this to the journalist running the exclusive. Just make sure you are as transparent as you can be.

You don’t always have to be a PR whizz to secure media coverage. And if you refrain from making these mistakes, I can assure you the odds will improve in your favour. So get pitching!

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