As a reporter who covers entrepreneurship and start-ups for a well-known business publication, it's not unusual for me to receive several hundred email pitches every week. Probably 90 percent of the emails close with the same bolded or italicized request:
"So, will you write about my company in your publication?"
"Do you want to profile the founder?"
"WILL YOU PUT US ON THE COVER OF INC.?"
My answer, almost invariably, is no. Why?
It's not because the company or founder isn't compelling or potentially interesting to Inc.'s audience. It's not because I don't think the company solves a real problem or delivers "exceptional value" to its clients. And it's not because I'm trying to be a jerk.
I say no for a much simpler reason: It's usually irrelevent to what I'm working on.
Start-up PR and communications was a subject of discussion Wednesday at the START conference in San Francisco. Margit Wennmachers, a founder of Outcast Communications and currently a venture capitalist with Andreessen Horowitz, put it the best.
Many company founders, she said, "think about press as a transactional thing. They have this notion that the media's job is to build your company. It's not."
Instead, she says "you need to think about it as a long-term relationship."
The important thing to remember, Wennmachers says, is that few reporters are going to jump at the opportunity to write a simple profile about a company that's just released a new feature or product.
A better way to get think about "getting press" is to develop a relationship with a handful of reporters, and become a reliable source within your particular industry or area of expertise. For example, Wennmachers says, if you're the founder of a security company, offer to talk about the NSA. In other words, think about what's relevant for the readers of the publication the reporter is writing for--not necessarily what would be simply "good press" for the company.
Plus, by being helpful to a reporter when the reporter needs help on a story, that same reporter will be more open to writing about your company's news. "Establish a relationship that's a give and take," she says.
The other thing to remember is that just like everyone else, reporters--especially Web reporters--are overworked, stressed, and usually working on deadline. Evelyn Rusli, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the moderator of the panel, says she has literally about 100,000 unread emails sitting in her inbox. So when you're pitching, keep it short.
And for the love of God, do not pick up the phone. If a random pitch that lands in my inbox is usually irrelevant, a phone call has pretty much zero chance of helping me get to my deadline faster. So don't call me. Unless I called you first.