Yury Molodtsov

COO and Partner @ MA Family, where we run communications for tech startups and VC firms.

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Posts tagged communications

The Unsettling Battle Between Media and Technology

April 5, 2024

Balaji started a discussion on Twitter that finally pushed me to put down my thoughts on the matter.

Some time ago, around the early 2010s, a tectonic shift happened in the media industry. Before this, it was a darling. Small and quirky companies improving our lives. Blogs like TechCrunch emerged to cover it exclusively and grew in tandem with tech. TechCrunch is now a prominent media outlet that is visited by 10 million unique people each month.

But something changed. The tech industry was taking over everything, and its champions started becoming more and more prominent in our lives. With scale came scrutiny. Journalism is the fourth power, a system of checks and balances that is supposed to question everything by design. This is a handy property. Financial Times was the one that uncovered all the fraud behind Wirecard, Germany’s favorite unicorn. Coindesk published the materials that triggered the collapse of FTX so we could learn the other side of Sam Bankam-Fried.

When tech became a celebrity itself, it joined a circle of politics and big businesses. Small startups don’t affect the world much at first. Then, they grow into big corporations, and sometimes, their road ahead is filled with unintended consequences. Although, sometimes, they know perfectly well what they were doing.

Journalists don’t hate tech people. They talk to them and write stories all the time. They are definitely more critical than they were, though. But only because the industry itself has grown.

A good interviewer isn’t supposed to be your friend. People read the press, and people work to appear in the press with one specific goal: to get exposure and credibility for themselves and their businesses. There would be no value in this if reporters weren’t diligent. And often we want them to be diligent and uncover people who attack their employees, fraud their partners, and commit unspeakable things. The media is the only neutral party incentivized to spend resources investigating such things and bringing them to light.

That doesn’t mean all interviews and press interactions should be a battleground. Nobody needs a confrontational interview when an actor goes on either a late-night show or “Hot Ones”. But two close people interview each other, and most often, it leads to a very dull puff piece that nobody reads.

There’s a particular movement of people who believe you should go direct, produce content, and go on your friends’ podcasts instead of working with the media. I actually agree that you should do those things, they’re extremely helpful. But too often, they come from people who already have tens of thousands of followers (if not millions). Their advice isn’t exactly actionable for most founders.

Of course, you don’t need to do PR in the traditional sense when you’re Elon Musk or Garry Tan. But even they use the media, they just don’t need to send out pitches because of their mass of followers. Recently, for the first time, Tesla started doing traditional press tours in Europe for the updated Model 3.

Not all coverage is good coverage, of course. I personally helped some of our clients defend against negative pieces that had no basis in reality. Sometimes this happens, just like sometimes a tech company fumbles to the point where people suffer. But it’s important not to let yourself get in a bubble when confirmation bias kicks in. Most people are good.

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Communicating with Numbers

November 3, 2023

One of the strongest moves in communications is pushing slightly wrong numbers out so that many people start quoting them and associate with your business (or your competitors) forever.

Two of my favorite examples are Stripe and Apple Music. Let’s dig in.

Stripe famously charges 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. Well, on average, they charge more. This pricing only applies at the base level and for bank cards issued in the United States. Any foreign card adds 1%. There are charges related to addon products you might use, from Stripe Subscription to something more specific.

But many people quote the advertised figure, which acts as an anchor. I know Stripe alternatives for some local markets that heavily promote the fact they’re a bit cheaper once you include all these charges.

Now to Apple Music. When you read news about the streaming business, you might often see the “price per stream” figure. This is how much each of the streaming services, including Apple Music, Spotify, and all others, pay the right holders (labels, musicians, producers, and everyone else collectively) for each separate stream of their track.

Payouts stats

The figures change over the months and years, but Apple Music consistently looks better than Spotify. Look, they pay more! It means they care about artists! Right?

The “price per stream” doesn’t really make much sense. This isn’t how streaming platforms pay. Nobody is instituting a specific payout price each month.

If we simplify, it looks like this. Spotify earned X billion dollars last month through subscriptions and ads. During this month, users collectively consumed Y billion streams. If you divide X by Y, you get the price per stream, but it’s not set, it varies each month. Each particular artist is getting more money from Spotify than Apple Music. Spotify simply has more users. It’s also a bit more aggressive in adjusting its pricing to local markets, and unlike Apple Music, it has an ad-supported tier, which brings less revenue per user.

If you look at Spotify’s quarterly results, there’s a Cost of Revenue line, which is consistently around 74% – this is the share of the total revenue they pay out to artists and rights holders. The company itself has been unprofitable until very recently. If you still want to claim that Spotify underpays artists, it largely comes down to their relationships with labels and music just isn’t a very big industry (and it never was).

But if you look at “price per stream”, Apple Music looks better.

***

The key rule of communication is that the larger your audience, the simpler your message should be. This is one of the reasons politics inevitably turns into populism since you have to condense your entire program into a slogan, whether it’s “Make America Great Again” or “Break up Big Tech’“.

And it’s hard to find something simpler than a number. If you can find a figure that makes your business more appealing than competitors, you should run with it. The best case, of course, is when your business structure allows you to make your competitor’s primary revenue line a free addon. A good example here would be the launch of R2 by Cloudflare. Amazon Web Services charge developers a lot of money if they want to move data out of the network. They call it egress fees. Cloudflare just made it free.

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The PR Flywheel: What It Can And Can’t Do For Your Business

July 5, 2023

People often think that PR and communications alone can help them achieve their goals and end up surprised when it doesn’t move the needle as much as they wanted. 

It’s because they think of communications like this. As if it’s something that can single-handedly drive awareness, attract customers, and bring money right away. 

In my experience, it’s a bit more complicated. PR is only a part of the virtuous circle. To secure an article in a good media publication, we need to convince journalists that your business will interest their readers. So we craft a compelling story by using everything at our disposal: from the founders’ journey and unique aspects of the product to the best metrics as validation from your customers and users. 

Journalists like great stories. And exciting numbers, along with the intangible public perception, are part of that story. They love to catch trends early and predict the next big thing. They also don’t want to be wrong, so they’re unlikely to over-inflate something unless they truly believe in it. 

If your competitor is ten times larger than you, you shouldn’t expect the quantity and quality of your media coverage to be the same. If Twitter, Reddit, and Discord servers are buzzing with invites to their product, and you can’t say the same for yourself, it’s natural for reporters to give more attention to them. You move past this by building something truly novel and communicating it better. 

Your startup’s success translates into good media coverage. These articles might help you with solving specific business objectives, such as pre-warming your relationships with customers and partners through word of mouth, finding the next investors, and convincing a developer to join your startup. You grow, and then this growth by itself validates your story and makes the company even more interesting.

This is the flywheel of communications. 

You just need to keep going*.

I’m not saying that if you aren’t getting the results, you just need to keep paying someone, an in-house head of communications, or a hired agency. Some companies are naturally more predisposed to PR because of their industries, founders, products, etc.

Good communications allow you to jump a little over your head. People notice you when a top-tier media publication posts a nice article about your startup. It creates buzz. It inflicts a bit of FOMO in investors looking for the most exciting deal. It instills confidence in potential candidates. It might even help you convince some partners.

But a single news article won’t make your startup a unicorn. Communications are about realizing the inherent potential. The story with all the substance is already there, all we do is shape it to deliver the idea in the most succinct way possible. 

The paths of Stripe and Adyen are probably the best example. Both do very similar things: they help businesses accept payments on the Internet. Even though Adyen is older, it stayed in the shadow (comparatively speaking) for most of its existence. Then, in 2022 Adyen suddenly surpassed Stripe in payments volume, turned out to be more profitable, and didn’t have to do layoffs afterward. But they were quite comparable even earlier.

One of the reasons Stripe was more notable and well-known is because it was much better at communications. Their “increasing the GDP of the Internet” tagline presents an exciting and ambitious vision. Sounds much better than a “card processing company” or a “payments acquirer”.

Remember, you can’t jump too high. There’s a cautionary tale of Fast, whose founder was a great communicator, built an image of a successful, thriving company, and raised $100 million from Stripe. He was loved by the media for a little while, but then the same industry crushed him when they got access to the actual state of finances in the company. 

Take what you’re and think of the most exciting way to present this story. Look at what your peers are doing as a reference, but focus on what makes you unique. Distill your pitch to highlight your mission and validate it with anything you might have, including the founders’ expertise, the rapid growth of your user base, or anything else.

Remember, that most of the time, journalists write news. Something that happened. The fact of your company’s existence is unlikely to be newsworthy by itself. Look at your product roadmap as well as anything you’ve already achieved. Also, think if there’s anything you deeply know and truly believe yet nobody talks about it yet, as it could become a good contributed story or an angle for something bigger.

***

This was first posted on our blog at MA Family.

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communications

How to Get Media to Cover Your Fundraising

June 6, 2022

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Five years ago announcing your funding round was quite a reliable option to get coverage in the press but it all changed. We ran dozens of announcements in recent months, so I wanted to give you a step-by-step tutorial on how to secure placements for your fundraising in the media.

First, why do it in the first place? Coverage in the media helps with:

  1. Investors
  2. Talent
  3. (rarely) Customers

The media lend you their authority and give validation in the eyes of the public.

Easy to say you should go direct but that only works if you already have an audience. Of course, Elon Musk doesn’t need PR when he can just tweet to 90 million of his followers. Most people don’t have that.

Now back to the tips. The funding is just a reason to think about covering your company. Are there any other good reasons? What makes your startup interesting & unique?

Reporters will cover a $1M Seed and drop a $50M Series B because they focus on the company and its story instead of the financing.

Examples:

  • Crazy growth
  • Your personal story that explains why you care about this problem
  • The social/environmental aspect of your business (most don’t really have one)
  • You’re bringing something known to a different vertical or even a different region

Also:

  • Unique team composition and background, maybe you could position yourself as a champion of a country
  • How does your company resonate with what’s going on in the industry or in the world right now? (WFH services in 2020, how did you manage to raise a Series C right now)

(can’t believe I have to say this)

Close your round before going to the media. An investor might drop out, the figures might change. Most funding round announcements happen months after the round is closed, just don’t wait a year.

The sure way to figure out if it’s reasonable to expect coverage for your news is to check what has been written before. Look for similar stories, if there is not a lot of these you might be in trouble.

Unique stories take a mountain of effort to secure. Find reporters who might be interested in your company and announcement. Have to be very relevant.

There are not many major outlets that often cover funding rounds in dedicated stories these days: TechCrunch, Forbes, Business Insider, VentureBeat, etc. Read through their latest funding stories, look for those which are similar in terms of industry/amount, and research them thoroughly.

A PR person looked at the cloud infrastructure, AI and developer tools stories tend to write and thought: yep, he’d be the right person to pitch this baby food startup to. Frederic Lardinois

The best way to contact reporters is via email unless they offer another option themselves. It’s usually easy to find contact details either on their profile somewhere on the website of the publication or in their Twitter bio.

Don’t try calling even if you somehow got a number. Draft a great pitch email. If you managed to raise a round – you know how to. Imagine that nobody cares. Don’t use buzzwords, instead focus on facts and reasonable projections. Build a narrative, and explain the place of your company in the world and how it relates to bigger trends.

You should include all the basics: the funding amount, investors, what are your plans for this money, etc. Use quotes to get your or the investor’s words into to the story unaltered (potentially).

Use public stats to prove there’s a large opportunity or show your math. Say who your competitors are and what makes you better. Disclose the figures that prove you’re on the right path. $ revenue and valuation rather than relative MoM user growth.

The most reliable option is to offer an “exclusive”, where you only pitch one reporter at a time. You can say that right in the subject line: “EXCLUSIVE: …”. Forbes and most outlets you know like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal are likely to cover exclusives only.

There’s an “old” but still helpful guide to pitches from Mike Butcher (TechCrunch) that you should read.

It’s OK to follow up with a reporter one or two times in case they haven’t replied, but certainly not more than that. Silence means they’re passing. You can try another one now, but ensure they’re also relevant and might get interested in what you’re offering.

Remember, they might be getting hundreds of pitches a week. Be respectful. All you can do is offer them a story and pitch it in the best possible way. But if they’re passing, then they’re passing.

If a reporter accepts the story, they will likely get back with questions. Most will ask for an audio interview since that allows them to communicate directly and get the info they need. If you get to that stage, it’s usually a very good sign, although they still might pass.

The alternative option is to pitch under embargo. You choose the date & time, you send a much shorter pitch (omit key details) and ask if they’re accepting the embargo (put it in bold). If they reply “yes”, share the full details. You can pitch multiple outlets this way.

Very important things to remember:

  1. Still pitch only one reporter at a media publication at a time.
  2. Give everyone the same embargo time.
  3. You’re decreasing your chances by going the embargo route but might get more stories. It’s a trade-off.

Reporters aren’t your content marketers, they might still pass, drop the story due to the timing conflict, or something else. If they actually like it, the exclusive option allows you to work together and find a date that works. With an embargo, you have exactly one shot.

Prepare images you can offer as illustrations. That could be photos of the founders, of the entire team, and screenshots of the product. The images shouldn’t be too marketing-y, otherwise, nobody will take them. Shared them in advance, maybe with the pitch itself.

I recommend drafting a blog post explaining the vision behind the company and where you are seeing it in the near future to post after the publication goes live. Turn it into a Twitter thread where you can also integrate the story. Warn your investors and ask them to share.

Basically, it’s on you to augment the announcement and leverage the buzz for your goals down the road.

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There's No Such Thing As Crisis PR

September 13, 2020

Somebody at your company fucked up. As a result, millions of rows from the customer database are roaming the Internet. It turned out the results you were promising to your customers aren’t that guaranteed. Maybe they lost their files in your cloud. Or maybe people learned that an executive in your trendy tech company is a sexist who would bee “too much” in 1850s. Now journalists are writing about pieces about your company questioning any credibility you might have.

illustration

Often the first reaction in such cases is to hire someone to kickstart what’s known as a crisis PR campaign. There are agencies marketing specifically on that term. Companies try to generate any kind of “positive” coverage to break the trend and ensure the catastrophe will soon be forgotten.

Yet journalists are smart and won’t fall for your attempts to change the subject.

Just like a lot of other areas, external communications shouldn’t exist on their own. PR is a part of the overall firm’s strategy and vision. The only way to be properly heard is to be authentic. You can’t just create an imaginary world where everything is OK and distort reality to get everyone on board.

The only option is to own the problem and publicly document the way you’re dealing with it causes and its aftermath.

Sometimes these crises are rather small one-offs. But often they’re signs of the problems you had all along: crumbling culture, lack of attention to security or privacy, technical debt, or even inaccuracies in your own communications.

You should get everyone on a call and figure out the following:

  1. What happened.
  2. What is the harm to the affected customers.
  3. What you can do to alleviate it.
  4. How to ensure that won’t happen in the future.

Usually the last part is the most difficult. A strategy like that is unlikely to be devised in a single Zoom call. But you should start thinking about that and set in stone the exact steps to proceed along that path.

Prepare an announcement and communicate it to all customers. Unless this thing is extremely small (and we aren’t talking about that) you shouldn’t just focus on the affected customers, even if there’s a line to draw. If people are writing about that, your current and potential customers will read that and remember forever. They should hear your words.

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The Art of Storytelling

May 10, 2020

Storytelling is largely underrated especially among techy people who often look down at it. I’ve met a lot of people, especially outside of the United States, who had a firm belief that all you need to do is to build something notable and your work would speak for itself.

Well, I’ve been a computer nerd with a degree in applied math and physics and I disagree. All my experience of running events, doing PR for companies, and working as a VC showed me the value of storytelling.

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“The art of storytelling is incredibly important. Learning to tell a story is critically important because that’s how the money works. The money flows as a function of the story. A venture capitalist gets to see all kinds of storytellers". Don Valentine, Founder of Sequoia

Art of storytelling applies to any area. Telling an investor about your idea? They listen to the story. Want to hire a great candidate for your fresh scrappy startup? It’s about the story. Trying to get hired at a company you like? The same. Pitching a reporter? You guess.

While an investor would certainly look at your numbers, they would still be buying the story. The question is whether you narrate it or let it goes sideways.

“I think my background has helped me learn to think well conceptually. Investing is not just about numbers. It’s also about imagination and structure and narrative and characters — the types of things we liberal-arts majors should know something about.” John Burbank, Founder of Passport Capital

How To Build It

Ok, great, so what should I do?

Some people can tell a great story when they don’t actually have anything to show. Others spend years building something and then can’t properly present it to the world. You want both a foundation to rely on and a story to tell.

Look deeper

Everyone has a story. You might think yours is boring and unnecessary but you need to realize that people are way too different. You might be reading someone’s interview on how they had been working since 15 years old and how it got them to where they are right now. You think: “Shame, I didn’t do anything noticeable”. Well, you probably did, you just don’t consider that important enough while they doubled down on it.

Honestly, unless they are Bill Gates or Roald Amundsen it probably wasn’t that exciting. You might be used to being humble or understand that past achievements aren’t that notable in the grand scheme of things, but you shouldn’t write them off.

Don’t be afraid to tell who you’re and how did you get to this moment: creating a small utility, applying for a PM role or announcing a $1Bn acquisition.

The same goes for what you create. You might have built a browser extension on a weekend and less than a thousand people use it now. But you can choose how you tell about it.

Assume nothing

Start from the assumption that nobody knows anything about you, your field, or your product. Then you’d have to make the story convincing to anyone. What that means is:

  • Use facts, not thoughts
  • Thought-out hypothesis, not blind guesses
  • Explain things clearly with no buzz words or industry jargon

Yes, on certain occasions you might need to drop names and jargon because that’s how new people accept you into their circle – by understanding that you’re one of them. That’s not all cases.

Too often people hide a lack of understanding behind some hyped terms. If your story (idea, product, etc) makes sense to a 12-year-old, then it’s good for anyone.

Find references

When you don’t know how to do something you either have to talk to someone who can or find a lot of examples of the finished result. Maybe you need to write a job description for the new role at your two-person startup.

Go online and look through dozens and hundreds of examples. Most will likely be bad because people turned it into a cargo cult and think they have to repeat the same words, phrases, and require N years of experience. But the structure itself is helpful. And you might stumble upon things you haven’t even considered.

The same goes for anything: writing your own bio or CV, drafting a pitch to a reporter, or inviting your friends to a party.

Practice

As you tell your story to more and more people you’ll begin noticing some patterns. What they’re interested in. What works and what doesn’t. What words come easily out of your mouth and which ones you always forget.

In order not to waste precious contacts on polishing, start telling about it to people around you. If your friends don’t want to listen to you, why do you think an extremely busy person whose time or resources you need would want?

After some time you don’t even have to think about it. Words just start flying.

Not really convinced

Look, I could say that human beings have been telling each other stories since the earliest times: from gatherings around a fire to books, pamphlets, movies, video games – all of those have been nothing but a medium for our stories. The stories we tell have started religions and empires and created the driving forces of history. From wedding vows to investment decks, everything is enabled by a story behind it.

Maybe this particular story isn’t up to the task of convincing you. Well, I’m still learning.

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How to Work With Reporters and Get Publications in Media

January 12, 2020

First of all, who am I to tell you about that? I work at Day One Ventures where we invest in startups and help them stand out by leading their communications. I’m on the investment team now but before venture capital, I was doing PR and secured publications on TechCrunch, VentureBeat, CNET and so on. I have a weird background coming from applied science to marketing and communication and then to VC, so I believe I have a more estranged approach that could be helpful to people unfamiliar with PR.

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What is PR

People have a lot of misconceptions about what PR is and isn’t, and it also depends a lot of your own company. If Apple has a new phone to show their approach would be very different. Most companies aren’t Apple and might find this useful.

Basically, you have a news announcement and you pitch it to the relevant reporters so they might write about it on their media websites and more people would learn about it. Almost everything is sales, from hiring an employee to securing investors, and PR isn’t an exception but it has some unique aspects.

In the US market there is far more news happening than there are reporters who can cover them. Every journalist is bombarded by emails from founders and their PR teams – most of those are really low quality but there’s just too many to process. If you’re reaching out to a reporter you’re competing with every single email in their inbox.

Think about what they want and what they need. Their job is to write engaging news and ideally be the first to do it. You can help them sometimes but you need to be thoughtful, not annoying. Have some empathy.

When Do You Need PR

A desire to have your name in a Forbes article or something similar is understandable but is hardly a good reason.

Most companies use PR to attract three specific audiences.

  1. Customers or partners
  2. Venture Capital investors
  3. Prospective candidates

Any pieces you generate might affect all of them but it’s important to start from your existing business goals.

You might get a spike in users from a good article in a relevant media outlet but don’t believe it would become a sustainable growth channel for you. There are exceptions, of course, certain consumer companies rely a lot on a never-ending stream of articles on LifeHacker and similar outlets and benefit a lot from SEO when people have specific problems. Or you might get some B2B leads if you’re working in a niche and got published on some trade publication.

If you want to raise funding, media will likely help you, as long as you get mentioned on Tier-1 outlets: let’s say TechCrunch, Wired, The Verge, Entrepreneur, Fortune, Washington Post, Business Insider – and some others, this list isn’t exhaustive by any means and depends a lot on what you do. Investors might read it, got interested and would try to reach out either cold or through someone in their network. And if they already knew about you, articles might help generate some FOMO to your benefit.

Finally, candidates. It might not be very reasonable, but media publications act as a good validator that you’re a legit company and have enough funds to pay them at least for some time. It also helps when people can show the article to their close people when they explain why they hell are they leaving a good job for your unknown startup.

What is News

First, you need to figure out if you really have news to share. New companies have an advantage as it can be your launch story, maybe even coupled with the funding announcement if you had any. This is a very good foundation but something you can only do once (or say you had a “soft launch” and not you’re open to everyone, well, it’s becoming more of a stretch).

There are other options. The funding announcement on itself is usually pretty strong, ideally if you have at least more than $1M of funding and some more well-known investors. With proper execution you will almost definitely get some publications, the real challenge is getting Tier-1 media and deeper articles.

Other easier options include:

  • Product launch or updates – but it needs to be quite significant and people tend to overestimate their accomplishments here.
  • Partnerships with bigger companies – if you can convince them you’d manage it yourself.

But what if you don’t have anything like that? Think about something you can offer to the reporter. You’re building an entire company from the ground up. Are you in expert in some industry? While you were figuring all this out, have you collected some unique data nobody in the industry has? What’s your unique view on it? Even in the US, there aren’t many good reports on multiple industry categories and the situation is much worse in other countries. Maybe you have a self-driving startup and almost accidentally collected data on the road quality throughout the United States.

One option I haven’t mentioned earlier is bylined articles. I won’t dive too much in this, but if you’re an acclaimed expert in some field you might be writing articles for the media that’d be published under your own name. You won’t be able to mention your own company, at least too often, and you will be working with an editor to tune them. It might be helpful on certain occasions, especially when you need to promote your expertise. It’s also different from a ‘Contributor’ status.

Embargo

Let’s say it’s the first time you want to tell the world about your company.

You can either do an embargoed outreach or try to nail an exclusive piece. What is the difference?

An embargo is a verbal agreement to not publish the news until a certain deadline. It allows you to pitch multiple reporters and hopefully get a stream of publications at a certain time. Again, if Apple wants to give reporters the next iPhone to review they can sign an NDA. Your arrangements would be on a handshake at best. Usually, they aren’t breached and you should trust them.

The added sense of urgency and competition between the reporters might help you as they don’t want to spend all that time in vain. The problem is that by default none of the reporters would be that invested into you. The ones working for top media can easily choose what they write about and find a more compelling and unique piece. Another huge issue is that you have to raise interest without sharing the details. If it’s a funding announcement you can’t say how much and what VCs were involved. If it’s about a product you can’t say the specifics.

If you tell the reporter it’s an exclusive piece they might feel motivated to dig deeper and maybe even have a more detailed profile of the company instead. Especially since they don’t have to accept any embargo to understand what the news is about. Of course, they want to write unique articles and not compete in a rat race.

Both strategies are valid and you have to choose wisely. Do you want a single big piece or a set of possible smaller ones on multiple outlets? There’s a real chance you’d miss some you wanted unless you go exclusive. And sometimes you might rely too much on a single person and they might lose interest at the last moment.

How to Prepare

You need to find the relevant reporters. PR firms utilize their existing connections and also have a Cision or Muckrack subscription – databases of reporters, their contacts and interests. But these tools are way too expensive for what they provide and unless you’re a professional PR manager you don’t need them.

You need to find reporters who are potentially interested in your announcement and then you need to find a way to connect with them.

Here are a few simple ways to locate them:

  1. Check the coverage of your competitors or any companies in that particular industry category. Who covered them? Google News is completely up to that task.
  2. Most media websites have a category of staff. Look at their titles and stated interests, open the pages of the ones that might seem relevant and read what they write about.
  3. If your business is around a particular niche look for smaller trade publications with a more narrow focus.

You need to study the journalists:

  1. Ensure they are really relevant to your news. What are their interests and views on the industry?
  2. Check the dates of their last articles. Are they still working there? They might be on a vacation or they might have left this job. In most cases, publishers don’t change anything on their personal pages to highlight it, but if they haven’t written for a couple of months you’d better check their Twitter or LinkedIn to be sure.
  3. What is their role? Sometimes you might find a contributor instead of a staff member. Note that their post aren’t usually promoted on the main page of the publisher’s website by default, also most of them don’t really cover the news. Being a contributor is often like having a personal blog on a nice domain. Try to focus on staff journalists.

When you found the people you believe should be interested you need to write down their contacts. Most journalists prefer to be pitched via email (their professional and not personal email). Usually, they have it listed either on the publisher’s website, likely on their personal page or the staff directory or have it in their Twitter bio. Some are OK with being pitched with DM but you’d be treading on thin ice here. Sometimes there’s a contact form to reach out to them but in my practice, those haven’t been useful at all. P.S. Never call reporters unless you’re asked to by them.

Almost any publisher has a general editorial email like editors@news.all but I’d suggest to only use it in case of some minor or niche websites who are in fact might be handled by just a couple of editors. In all other cases find the people to pitch directly.

There are other services for finding people’s emails except for Cision and Muckrack. I found RocketReach to be nice at times and a much cheaper alternative. At least you can try it without talking over the phone and signing a 12-month contract for $5000 and more.

For an embargoed outreach I’d suggest having at least 40-50 names on the list, preferably up to 100. You might have a backup journalist for each outlet but it wouldn’t be nice to write them simultaneously. Reach out to the backup only if your primary contact passed.

You can use a spreadsheet like this to keep your media list and track the status of each outlet.

Example

How to Pitch

The common knowledge is that you need to write a press release. Not really. This format is only useful in some specific instances and it’s definitely not the best way to pitch a reporter. By the way, pieces like these from real journalists explaining the best method to pitch them are a goldmine.

A press release can be a nice way to formulate your thoughts, approve the necessary parts with the stakeholders (like partners or investors) and then provide to the reporter who is already interested as a text framework.

You need to write a short and engaging pitch.

  • Don’t use buzzwords. Use data instead or say nothing.
  • Explain what the news is about, what your company is doing and provide some benchmark so journalists would understand your scale.
  • Tell how are you different from other solutions and what are your key differentiators. Some people like to say they have no competitors but most of the time this is just stupid. Also, positioning yourself against someone big doesn’t take anything away from you, on the contrary.
  • Be nice, or the only publication you’d get would be screenshots of the crazy thing you wrote legitimately posted on Twitter.

If the announcement is embargoed you don’t want to give out all the details before the journalist accepted the embargo – yet you still need to provide enough background so they could assess if it’s interesting.

I presume you aren’t a PR person (what are you doing here then?) and pitching your own startup. That actually gives you an advantage. You aren’t just hired to pitch something you know nothing about, this is the company you’re building.

It’s quite difficult to list all the tips, instead please find this imaginary pitch I wrote. I wouldn’t claim it’s perfect but it can give you a structure to use.

Hi Alex,

I enjoyed your coverage on Apple News and its effects on publishers and wanted to ask if you might be interested in the upcoming announcement of the new product from Redd, a news aggregation app that combines open RSS with advanced machine learning to personalize your content.

The announcement is embargoed until January 23, 10am ET. I can share the press release under embargo and answer any questions you may have.

I founded Redd two years ago because Google News wouldn’t add and surface the blogs I cared about while ordinary RSS readers required me to go through every title to feel caught up on news. Now we have over 500,000 active users and are still growing over 10% MoM. The new product offering we are launching is aimed to help busy professionals who have to be informed for their work.

Please let me know if you’d like to set up a call, or if I can answer any questions. I look forward to hearing from you!

Best, Yury

Prepare some images to go along with the announcement: your product’s screenshots and a photo of your team – also have you personal headshot ready just in case. Recall how almost every news piece has one or several images and simplify the work for the reporter that is willing to write about you.

If the reporter writes back and says he or she accepts the embargo, send back a short email with the details you haven’t shared before and maybe add a press release at the bottom. Mention the embargo date and time right in the press release again so it’d be easy for them to avoid any mistakes. Embargoes are often broken due to human error and not malice. But never send the materials if the journalist hasn’t accepted it – then they are in their right to write about it.

You will likely need to follow-up with the most if not all of your contacts. It’s a sensitive topic – journalists get dozens of pitches a day and might get annoyed. But sometimes they truly miss your email. My first TechCrunch publication happened very quickly after the third follow-up I sent. But you probably shouldn’t follow-up more than three times. And wait a few days between these reminders. If you haven’t used all your opportunities to follow-up fill free to send all the materials even to the reporters who haven’t replied at the moment of the embargo. Somebody may get interested in the last minute.

Sometimes you’d get “Passed” emails. Since reporters are very busy, most might not even reply to you, so it’s hard to understand if they passed or just missed it. I presume you’d be using mail tracking (won’t dive into that) so if you see they saw the message – stop bugging them.

A few items that should be obvious but sometimes aren’t:

  • If you’re pitching the launch of a brand new product ensure that it’s not out there in the wild along with the post in your company’s blog. The same goes for practically any other announcement.
  • Check that all the links are good and your website won’t be down during the pitching. If people can’t check it out right away it’s very easy for them to move on.

Hopefully, you’ll get some interested journalists. They might reach out to ask additional questions, request a unique quote or even set up a 30-60 minutes call to talk to you directly. Respond as soon as you can. If they come through a personal interview the chances they’ll write are usually quite high unless they got noticeably uninspired during your call. In some cases, they’d need to pitch the story to their editor who might be the one to pass on it as well.

Set up a Google News alert and hope for the best. Again, there are specialized tools that could catch more mentions if you end up having a big announcement but Google will have the core ones you need to care about.

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