Pitching the media can be overwhelming. It’s a long, hard process to come up with an idea, find relevant journalists, pitch them, and then follow up. However, the results can be well worth it. My own company has generated millions of dollars of business from well-placed articles, and I’m not the only one finding success with PR. Here is how four entrepreneurs used innovative techniques to get media coverage.
Case 1: Exhaust your story.
The software company Airtame was, back in 2014, the most crowdfunded project on Indigogo. “One gets a lot of press being the most crowdfunded project,” said Steffen Hedebrandt, the head of marketing. “But most people forget how this can be utilized years into the future.”
A year after their successful crowdfunding campaign, they got coverage in TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and other publications when they raised $1.3M. “Normally, TechCrunch would not cover a startup raising only $1.3M, but we had our edge as being the most crowdfunded project on Indigogo, and that was still interesting news,” Hedebrandt says.
One shouldn’t be shy of re-using the same story over and over again, as long as it builds credibility.
Case 2: If your product isn’t interesting, don’t mention it.
Early on, Jens Jakob Andersen had problems getting media coverage for his running shoe and sneaker website RunRepeat.com. RunRepeat.com is like IMDb or TripAdvisor, but for running shoes and sneakers, and nobody wanted to write about a review aggregator for shoes.
Instead of focussing on his own website when pitching journalists, he used his statistical background to build studies for the media to use.
“By crunching data, I found that cheap running shoes are better than expensive ones,” Andersen recalls. “The media loved it.” Within a day, Andersen’s study was mentioned in 30-plus publications including the Washington Post and other top tier newspapers.
“Most people focus on pitching their product to the media, but journalists get so many product pitches. By creating a study that’s related to what you’re an expert in, you give the journalists a lot of value, for free, and without any obvious promotional intentions,” Andersen says.
Since his first study, Andersen has managed to be mentioned in more than 100 publications around the world, and journalists often reach out to him as a trusted source on all things to do with the running industry.
Case 3: News hacking.
The third case requires one to be timely. Mads Hallas from the auction aggregator Mearto.com explains, “News hacking is about finding interesting stories done by other companies and then taking over as the owner of the story.”
Recently, a famous European restaurant, Noma, decided it was time to upgrade its furniture. They quietly put their furniture on auction in another country. Hallas discovered this, quickly made a landing page about how one could now buy furniture from the restaurant Noma, and the story got covered by the local media. Mearto got attention, even though his company didn’t have anything to do with the auction itself.
Case 4: The Slideshare hack.
Slideshare is like YouTube, but for presentation slide decks. To those who hate presentations this may sound like a new level of Dante’s inferno, but it turns out to be a very popular site with tens of millions of visits each month. Tobias Schelle from 24Slides.com recently uploaded a presentation to Slideshare, but says “I then thought these slides could be useful at other platforms too,” so he pitched a few highly targeted journalists with the link to his deck.
The result? Shelle’s company received multiple mentions in top tier publications including HuffPost.
Lesson: Pitch people, not publications.
“I know that being featured in Entrepreneur Magazine or The New York Times is probably most [small business owners’] dream,” says Andersen. “But you’re better off reversing your thinking. Do not find relevant publications to pitch — find relevant journalists.”
He suggests using one of the search operators from Google to quickly help you find the most relevant journalists writing on a particular topic at a given publication. For example, to find authors who write for trail runners in the New York Times, you might search “site:nytimes.com trail running.”
Try to find a journalist that has a lot of pull with a niche audience. “A large fish in a small bowl is always preferred. The exposure is greatest in the small bowl and the attention around your story will be a lot bigger,” Andersen says.
Once you’ve identified the journalist you’d like to pitch, you can use the LinkedIn Chrome extension FindThatLead to track down the email of the journalist. The website email-format.com is also a good resource where you can see the actual email structure used by a specific domain (e.g. @nytimes.com). That way you can quickly guess what email structure they are using (e.g. email@example.com). Another method that requires some guesswork is to use the Linkedin Sales Navigator Gmail extension that shows a LinkedIn profile when you type the correct email into Gmail.
Lesson: Call when you can, email when you must.
According to Schelle, you will get 10 to 20 times more coverage by calling than by emailing, although the strategy works best when you and the writer already have a relationship. “I call if I know the journalist. Email is great if you have to pitch many journalists in one day,” he says.
When I asked him about studies by PR platforms Vocus and Cision that showed that 80-90 percent of journalists claim they prefer email to phone pitches, and mentioned that I, myself, can’t stand receiving phone calls and only respond to emails, Schelle was nonplussed.
“Imagine that you get 100 sales proposals a day,” he says, likening the process to a business venture. “Would you prefer a phone call every 5 minutes–where you have to give a reply and be persistent not to progress with a deal–or would you prefer 100 emails where you have control over who you want to reply to?” he laughs. “Probably the latter.”
“The truth is that no sales person with any self respect would send an email over giving a call.” The business of PR, he says, is no different.
I won’t argue with Schelle’s reasoning or the data, so go ahead and call everyone else, but still don’t call me.
Lesson: Don’t send press releases.
Hedebrandt from Airtame likes press releases even less than Schelle likes emailing. “Consider how many marketers use impersonal press releases and you’ll realize your chances of getting coverage are low–there’s just too much competition! The secret to the right pitch is rarely to do what everyone else is doing.”
When using email, do it right. New York Times editor Caitlyn Kelly has stated that “99.9 percent of the emails I get are useless!” And Mike Butcher, TechCrunch’s Editor at Large has likewise said, “PR people have zero clue how to pitch me.”
Yet Hedebrandt points out that journalists really don’t ask for much (see Butcher’s tips on Slideshare, for example). Write a precise subject line, get to the point, and make sure the topic is relevant right now for the journalist you’re pitching.
Lesson: Be concise.
Andersen says, “There is no such thing as an absolutely ‘perfect pitch,’” but he suggests using the following email template:
- Introduction. (10-30 words)
Why you’re pitching this specific journalist. (10-30 words)
Your story, including: a.) Why it’s relevant; b.) Why it’s news right now; and c.) Why it will benefit the journalist to cover it. (100-200 words)
Ask for their interest level. (5-10 words)
Include how to reach you.
“Remember,” says Hallas of Mearto.com. “PR is all about relationships.”