10 Key Lessons for Founders Pitching Press
Insights from our virtual panel with reporters and editors from 5 tech publications.
Securing your first piece of press is both one of the most exciting and most vulnerable milestones on the founder journey — it generates credibility, buzz, new customers, and brings well-deserved recognition and shine, but it also requires putting yourself and your product into the world in a lasting way and ceding some control in the process.
Last week, Human Ventures hosted a virtual panel for founders with reporters and editors from Fast Company, Tech Crunch, The Information, Axios, and Business Insider. In the early days of building a company, founders are often navigating the delicate job of PR themselves (before bringing on a consultant or hiring in-house), so any opportunity to hear what reporters are looking for directly from the source is invaluable. Below are 10 key takeaways from our panel of experts.
Know Who You’re Pitching
Reporters and editors hold different roles at their publications, and it’s important to have that context when you’re going out to pitch. Reporters are on-the-ground gathering information, and they need to have a comprehensive understanding of what’s happening across their beat. It’s their job to surface the best stories to editors, who ultimately decide what will be most relevant for the publication’s readership. A reporter might be willing to have more conversations as they survey the landscape, so they may be quicker to engage with you, but the buck stops with the editor.
Regardless of who you are pitching, it’s critical that you have an understanding of their interests and coverage focus.
Stay Current on Market Dynamics
Before the recent reset in public markets, a company’s valuation mattered significantly more in a pitch. Generally, unicorns got much more coverage than smaller companies. Now, we’re seeing the adverse effects of chasing a high valuation if you have nothing to show for it. There’s a greater interest in stories of companies that are building for sustainable growth, which means more opportunities for coverage even if you haven’t hit unicorn status.
Given the volatility in the market, when your round closed is now just as important as what your valuation is. If you’re pitching a story about a sky-high valuation, but your round closed before the current downturn, that number doesn’t hold water in today’s market.
These sentiments will evolve as the market does, so be sure to survey the state of affairs or talk to an expert before you craft your pitch.
Don’t Lean on Celebratory Months
Editors are growing weary of covering companies or founders purely based on celebratory months like Women’s History Month. Generally, there is a focus on diversifying the people and companies they profile all year long, and they’re much more interested in the fundamentals of the business and how you’re leading it.
Particularly when it comes to landing contributed content pieces, editors are looking for compelling stories about how you’re handling challenges and leading in an authentic way. Sharing things you’ve tried, times you’ve failed, and how you’re experimenting will resonate more than painting a glossy picture in a moment when we’re all confused and charting a new way forward. Don’t be afraid to open up about the human side of building a company.
Write the Press Release
A press release is still the most efficient way to get key information to a reporter — like your approved investor list, deal terms, and preferred way to succinctly describe your business (make sure you include that). It’s also a good way for you to ensure that key details about your company don’t slip through the cracks.
Bring on a Publicist When You Can
Often, reporters will want to connect with founders one-on-one for an interview, but a publicist can make sure that you’re prepared. Reporters often reach out to publicists when they’re looking to source the right founders for a particular article, so it can be really helpful to be on someone’s roster when those opportunities arise. Lastly, one of the most important parts of pitching is knowing exactly who the right reporter is for you and your company, and a publicist’s deep industry knowledge can help you connect those dots more quickly.
Don’t Make Phone Calls
Reporters and editors are inundated with pitches, and invading their privacy by digging up their cell phone number is a sure way to sour the relationship. Sending a DM bears some risks; some people don’t mind, and others do. Your best bet is to stick to email. If you don’t hear a response, the story is likely not a fit.
Update Your LinkedIn
Broadly, reporters and editors are not influenced by your personal social media presence — having a lot of Twitter followers won’t necessarily land you a story. That said, make sure your LinkedIn is accurate and up-to-date before you go out to pitch. Also, if you land the story, be mindful that your own promotion aligns with the reporter’s. Sharing is highly encouraged, but some reporters prefer a 24 hour lead on coverage — including on your own blog.
Build the Relationship
Take the time to get to know the reporters and editors in your space. It’s never a great look to follow someone and then follow-up with a pitch instantly. Know exactly what they’re interested in and what they cover before making an approach — sending a pitch that’s totally out of left field is guaranteed to start you off on the wrong foot.
Think about what value you might be able to add to their process — if you have insights on a particular issue, reach out so they know you and the type of expertise you have.
You Can Get Press Without News
If you don’t have a newsworthy story at the moment, that doesn’t mean you can’t get press. There are plenty of things founders can lend their perspective on — predictions for the future of your industry, what the fundraising environment looks like for you during a downturn, and how you are building your business during a tough macroeconomic backdrop, to name a few timely ideas. If you have a publicist, make sure they know you’re open to giving quick comments if a reporter is looking for a quote.