Entrepreneurs are capable of incredible things. They can raise millions of dollars from investors, put together a team of engineers to create a product and much more. If startups are capable of all that then surely putting together an email or a tweet to send to a journalist should be easy.
But that often isn't the case. PR firms and external consultants are hired to do the work that many entrepreneurs should be able to do and journalists can cost startups thousands of dollars. I recently sat down with Dmitry Dragilev, growth hacker at Criminally Prolific LLC and founder of JustReachOut, to outline the process startups should follow to manage their PR needs. An avid contributor, Dmitry has written for several big-name publications and has published over 1300 articles in the last 8+ years. Below are the questions I asked, and his thought leadership on the matter can't be ignored.
Where do startups even begin when thinking about reaching out to a reporter?
As you can imagine you should only contact journalists who are most relevant to what you do. Look to see which journalists are covering your competition; they're the best journalists to ping because they already love your topic and are likely to cover it. Create a list of relevant reporters that are very much related to what your product/app/service does. Google is a great tool for curating an initial list of reporters in your field.
Once you have your list of potential reporters, go back through and check out their social media pages. What kinds of articles are they covering regularly? How big is their following? Who are they? This research helps me write my email to them.
What's the best way to reach out to journalists when asking for press coverage?
Journalists actually prefer to get emails from founders themselves versus PR firms so startups needs to figure out the email angle they want to take. If you happen to just bump into a journalist who writes about your industry at a bar, how would you start a conversation? Would you say:
""Hi, I'm Jim, and we are building the best email automation software on the market"
"Hey, I read your stuff, you recently wrote about X and tweeted X, you know what you said is right but..."
Which one of these sound like it's more likely to get a response?
Your sole job with the first email is to get a response from them. You want to build trust, rapport, you want to court them. So your first emails must, it MUST be authentic and start a conversation with them. The single most important factor responsible for letting me accomplish my success today is the relationships I've built with journalists and editors running these publications. And these are relationships I've built through common interests with these journalists.
Here's a challenge for you today. Can you find a common interest with just one journalist writing about a trending topic right now? Filter topics by your industry and find a story that relates to your interests. Now click to see who wrote the story. What do you have in common with him or her?
So now I have my list of reporters and my angle. What actually goes into the email pitch? How do I grab their attention when they're inundated with emails every day?
You need to narrow down your one-sentence pitch. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY wants to read a long email, never mind an email pitch where you take more than a line to describe your product. Be able to answer what you do in one sentence. Here are two great examples of one-sentence pitches that clearly get the point across.
#1. Airbnb - 'Find a place to stay"
#2. Airto - Airto is developing a web-based social seating check-in platform to help air travelers see who is on board their flight and use Facebook and LinkedIn to assign all flight seats with one click.
A handy formula I like to use is the following, courtesy of Adeo Rossi of the Founder Institute:
"My company [name] is developing [offering] to help [target audience] [solve a problem] with [a secret sauce]."
Your email pitch should also be fairly short and to the point. I recommend including how your startup relates to what the reporter has previously written about, a quick description of your company and if you've already received funding. Remember that your subject line is also key. 85% of writers open emails based on the subject line so keep it direct, concise and descriptive.
I'm assuming the last step then is to reach out to the reporter then?
Absolutely. By now you should have the necessary elements that go into your pitch email as well as the reporter's email address. But before you hit that send button, figure out the best time to email a reporter.
I found 69% of reporters prefer to be pitched in the morning so I recommend 6:30am or 7am their local time. Your goal here is to make sure you're the most recent email in their inbox when they check it. Also, track every email you send out. That way you can tweak any emails based on the open and response data you receive.
Lastly, it doesn't hurt to follow up with a reporter if they haven't responded to you. I'd say 90% of responses I get from journalists are to follow up emails I send. Check your tracking data. I like to use mixmax to see if journalists have opened my emails. If someone is opening up your email but they don't respond, it generally means they have some interest in your pitch. Send them a follow-up 2 to 3 days later with something simple to remind them of your product.