Every other day we get lots of startup PR questions from clients about the most efficient ways of seeking and getting press coverage. The truth is that the efficiency lies upon a backdrop of research on various issues. From the startup PR strategy to the one-sentence pitch, the media list, the email pitches, the timing, and the follow-ups, everything takes time.
As we pondered with some founders who asked this question, we realized the need to outline a general process that any startup struggling to get media attention can follow. There is no standard process that works for every startup. Be that as it may, we have developed a framework that can easily generate PR success.
Steps to update your media coverage
1. Refine your one-sentence pitch
To begin chasing your startup PR goals, the first thing to do is to be sure that you can explain what your company does in one short sentence. If you tell someone what your company does using this pitch strategy, they should be able to connect with your business mission and vision.
If your grandmother doesn’t get it at all, then you have no idea what your company is doing. For any startup PR to take off, you need to get this in the bag first.
Let’s look at some great examples of one-sentence pitches:
Twitter is an online news and social networking service. Here, users post and interact with messages, “tweets”, restricted to 140 characters.
Stripe is a US technology company that allows both private individuals and businesses to accept payments over the Internet.
Airbnb is an online marketplace and hospitality service that enables people to lease or rent short-term lodging including vacation rentals, apartment rentals, homestays, hostel beds, or hotel rooms.
It’s easy to understand what each of the companies above does by reading one single sentence. All of these companies have hundreds of features but they simplify everything quite effectively.
To learn how to simplify your pitch, you might want to read: 6 Tips on Creating the Best Elevator Pitch to Interest Investors
2. Build a startup PR target media list
This is perhaps the most important part of the startup PR process. The target media list is a list of the journalists you think would be interested in writing or reporting about your startup.
The best tip here is to create a large general list. You should then begin to refine it as you weed out the journalists who you think are not very appropriate for your company.
You could start with a list of about 80 journalists. However, this is a pretty huge list and you need to prioritize it. Therefore, you can begin to sieve from this list and come up with around 30 journalists who are the best fit.
To begin with, let us have a look at some of the metrics that should guide your search for reporters:
The first metric to search for could be based on your niche. Let’s say you are in the field of fashion and lifestyle. You should therefore find journalists publishing in this niche.
Alternatively, let’s say your company is in the virtual reality or virtual computing space. Your niche-based search will focus on virtual reality and (or) virtual computing. In this way, you can create a bigger list of journalists publishing within the niche in general.
The second metric you could use is the set of keywords that define your startup.
Let’s assume you are in the fashion and lifestyle niche but your focus is on ‘custom printed women’s pants.’ It, therefore, follows that your more specific keyword would be ‘custom printed women’s pants.’ This particular keyword will really narrow down on the journalists who have talked about custom printed pants for women, or even pants for women. It is therefore a more specific way of searching especially when you want to trim your big list of 80 to about 30 journalists who are focused on your exact space.
The second example is based on the virtual reality and (or) virtual computing niche. Let’s say your company is building a gaming console that works primarily for the virtual reality space. The keyword we are looking at is ‘virtual reality gaming console’. When you search for journalists based on this keyword, you will find a more targeted and narrower list of journalists to help you trim the large niche-based list you created when you searched based on the niche alone.
This is another way of narrowing down your list to an achievable target. You could list a set of media publications that cover your field and then reach out to specific journalists within those publications to pitch your story.
Let’s say you are a startup that has a very disruptive idea that will totally change how people use their vacant homes. You would then list publications that specifically cover disruptive startups. Publications that cover real estate and home ownership would also be a safe bet.
Maybe you decide to go for the media companies that cover disruptive startup ideas. You would then list companies like Venturebeat, TechCrunch, The Next Web (TNW), and Pando Daily in your list. You can then find out if there are journalists who have written about startups based on real estate.
A good way of finding such journalists would be to also pay attention to your competitors and where they have been covered. Journalists who have written about companies like Airbnb could be a good target for a startup focusing on vacant homes.
How lower and mid-level publications can help
One of the best startup PR tips is to prioritise lower and mid-level publications. Being published in a publication that receives about 300k visitors a month within just a month of trying might seem like a small deal. However, it is better than wasting energy to get published at media companies like TechCrunch, Forbes, and CNN. In our experience, top-tier publications like these are very picky. Many startups only give up after trying to get press from them for 2+ years.
Of course, no one would forego press coverage if it were possible at media companies that receive millions of visits per month like TechCrunch and Forbes. However, on a realistic level, starting small is more effective in PR.
Sometimes when you have been published in a smaller publication, journalists from other publications republish the story in other publications and this creates a ripple effect that really publicizes your startup.
How PR agencies can help
What most startups do is pay big bucks to startup PR agencies in the hopes of getting covered in huge publications. Most of the time, this doesn’t really happen. Smart startups target blogs and mid-level to lower-level or even local media companies. Strategic startup founders also prefer to go for agencies like Pressfarm that specialize in working with startups. Such agencies can help startups to generate publicity with a modest budget.
What information should you compile on specific journalists?
What kind of information should you compile in your target media list? The answer is simple. Create an excel sheet for this list and use the following columns:
You’ll find this in any journalist’s article or public profile on the publication’s website.
This is the most important information that you need to create contact. Some journalists have made this information public. However, in most cases, you will have to wade through the internet mud to gather this information.
This is also information that you will find on the reporter’s publication profile page. It’s usually included in the reporter’s bio. If you don’t find the bio, you will be able to get this information from the journalist’s articles.
Depending on what information you found first between the name of the journalist and the publication, one piece of information will lead you to the other. There is no way to contact the journalist if you don’t have these two pieces of information.
The last 10 articles they wrote + links
This is very important information to have for the following reasons:
a) You will get a chance to read more than one article by the journalist in question. As a result, you will fully understand their thought process, ideas, and personality. All these aspects are very important if you want to have a lasting impact from your first email pitch to them.
b) You will understand their writing and pitch from an informed point of view. Most people might view every piece written by journalists as reporting. While this is true, journalists spend a lot of time and effort crafting their own style of journalism. Understanding their reporting style also means that you have studied the journalist well beyond the niche and keywords they like to focus on. This is an added bonus for you.
Twitter and LinkedIn are the most professional social media accounts. On Twitter, you follow someone not because you already know them. Rather, you would like to know them and interact. This is unlike a platform like Facebook where you follow someone you already know. Twitter and LinkedIn give you the added advantage that you don’t have to know the people you choose to follow.
Journalists will be receptive to you if you pitch through Twitter and LinkedIn instead of using their Facebook profiles where you will end up looking like some stalker.
Having said that, the best place to source all this information at once for each of the journalists on your list is at a PR agency like Pressfarm. Our self-service portal is the best place to find all this information without having to scrape a million web pages trying to find that one email address. We save so many founders and PR professionals time and energy that they would rather commit to more important things. In order to do this, we take over tasks like writing an email pitch and actually reaching out to the journalists.
A little insight into how Pressfarm works:
As a client, you have access to a media database with valuable information that you can use to reach out to journalists. This database can help you connect with more than 1 million journalists from several niches and publications. This includes publications from the United States, Canada, Australia, and the UK.
Once you sign up, our Account Executive builds custom media lists containing information to help you connect with journalists in your niche. Our Account Executive can build lists by publication or by industry. If you want lists containing contacts in your niche within a specific geographic region, you simply need to ask.
How to use your custom media lists
To use your custom media lists, you need to include them in your outreach process. Simply reach out to the journalists of your choice whenever you have a story to share with them. You can check out each journalist’s previous articles beforehand. This way, you will have an easier time connecting with them. Doing this research will also make it easier to craft a story that aligns uniquely with each journalist’s interests.
How to find reporters to tell your story
There are some opportunities you need to watch out for even as prepare to pitch the journalists in your media list.
They are asking for opinions on a story on Twitter/LinkedIn
When working on new stories, several journalists turn to their followers to ask questions, request leads, opinions, etc. If you are lucky, they are probably asking if there is any company doing what your company is doing. Providing them with such feedback might lead to press coverage for your brand.
Alternatively, if they are not asking for specific company names, your company might still have some valuable data in the form of research or analytics data. This data might help the story the journalist is writing. It’s important to reach out and lend a hand. At this point, try to nurture that relationship and help the journalist as much as you can. This will help when you eventually pitch your startup to them.
They have written about your competitors before
The best journalists to target are also the ones who have written about your competitors before. These journalists understand the issues your company is trying to solve and most of them will undoubtedly hear you out. However, the angle of the story you are pitching has to be different from what they wrote about your competitor. Otherwise, you will not succeed in your quest to get published.
For instance, your competitor might have talked about the gazillion features they just launched. If they were covered, you can’t make the mistake of pitching your story from the angle of the many features you have as compared to your competitor.
You will probably want to talk about just one feature that closes the gap you are filling. This is the feature that defines the uniqueness of the company. You might also take the angle of a milestone that you just hit and surpassed. Let’s assume your competitor has 10k users, and you just managed to get 15k users within a month. This might be a good angle if you pitch it correctly.
In summary, when you find a journalist that published about companies in your market, tweaking the angle of your story will be very important.
They have asked for opinions on a topic you’re familiar with in their previous stories
Some journalists want to continue the discussion about a particular story they have written. At the end of these stories, they request people who might have a different opinion or something to add to reach out to them. If you have something to add, reach out. This is a very clever startup PR strategy if the story falls within your company’s focus.
3. Create a killer email pitch template
An email pitch is the main thing that will help you create contact with a journalist. Whether a journalist replies to the pitch or not depends on how well it is written.
I encourage people to understand the story they are trying to pitch first before beginning to write the pitch. There are many angles that startups can use to pitch their stories to the press. Once you understand the angle, it’s very easy to come up with a killer email pitch.
If you don’t take the right approach to PR, marketing, and advertising, it won’t be long before you realize that the competition is passing you by.
~ Neil Patel
Let’s say you would like to pitch a story to a journalist who has written extensively about physical groundbreaking tech products. The angle of the story here is that you are pitching your new product too.
Below is a good example:
Subject: [Launch Exclusive] Print products from a smartphone with a handheld 3D printer
You are definitely the most trusted journalist when it comes to making people understand technology news. I really liked your piece on why Kodak failed so terribly after the invention of the smartphone in the Steve Jobs era. In this time and age, it’s ill-advised to think you are always ahead of the game. You have to keep innovating.
I have another interesting breakthrough for you to consider. My company has recently developed a handheld 3D printer that prints products from a smartphone or tablet. We have also designed a platform that allows designers to design their 3D concepts and models on their phones and print them with a single tap. 
Previously, people have only been able to 3D-print on large printers directly from their computers. However, our inexpensive handheld 3D printer means people can carry it in their pockets to the office or to their favorite chill spot and print 3D models on the go. 
A fascinating thing we are exploring is if you can send 3D models from various 3D modeling software like Rhino to print on our device. 
Would you be interested in this story? I’m happy to demonstrate how it works and provide more information to make your writing process as smooth as possible.
Highlights from this pitch
The strong points of this pitch are as follows:
- The subject indicates that this story is exclusive to this particular journalist. In other words, no other journalist has gotten this pitch. This piques the journalist’s interest so that he or she can’t ignore the email. Proposing exclusive stories to journalists is a startup PR trick that all founders should master.
- In the first paragraph, I compliment the journalist and comment on a story of his that I liked and why. This is what we call reaching out to the person of the journalist. That should be the function of the first paragraph of your email pitch.
- In the second paragraph, I explain, in layman’s language, what my physical product does.
- In the third paragraph, I explain the single major unique feature of my physical product while comparing it with what the market has or has been using.
- And in the fourth paragraph, I let the journalist in on what our company is exploring currently. This increases our credibility and shows the trust we have put in this particular journalist.
- The last paragraph is a humble ask. It also includes a promise to provide as much information as the journalist needs to ensure his writing is as smooth as can be.
Our second example is a company that touches on the pressing societal issue of food production. The journalist I’m reaching out to is very focused on how tech and agriculture merge to improve food production and ensure high yields for farmers.
Here is the second example below:
Subject: How our product plans to increase maize production by 25% worldwide
For the past few months, my interest in your articles has grown greatly – thanks to your cutting analyses of tech and agriculture. I loved your recent article on how robots will change the production and transportation of raw materials for farmers.
I wanted to introduce you to a new system we are working on that will increase maize production by 25% per farmer if well implemented. Apart from increasing food production to curb hunger in third-world countries, it will lead to increased earnings for farmers worldwide.
It’s a type of fertilizer that adds more resistance to pests for the maize crop leading to reduced death of the maize plant. Apply it to the seeds during initial planting, and 3 months later, that’s it. For the average farmer, it will cost 30% less than available fertilizers in the world currently and will increase yield by a quarter of initial production amounts.
One fascinating angle you could explore is how companies making fertilizers could utilize available technologies to make stronger fertilizers – fertilizers that can reduce the usage of pesticides and add more resistance to disease for plants. 
If you’re interested, I am available to send to you the whole report. I can even assign one of my team members to carry you through our most recent experiment in two different climatic regions.
Highlights from this pitch
The strong points from this email pitch are as follows:
- A catchy subject introduces the journalist to what could potentially be a breakthrough in maize production.
- In the first paragraph, I compliment the journalist as well as show some understanding of the field he writes in.
- I pitch my product and show how it improves the societal issue at hand.
- In the third paragraph, I explain briefly how the product will solve the problem.
- In the fourth paragraph, I give the journalist a story idea. This is just to illustrate one of the angles they could explore. This automatically helps the journalist see the potential my story has.
- In the last paragraph, I offer to send a report if the journalist is interested and even assign a member of my team to help them check through some climatic data from regions where we have tested the product.
One more example:
Our final example is an illustration of how to pitch a journalist with the intention of starting to build a long-term relationship. I advise everyone who intends to seek press coverage to start building relationships months in advance. This makes it so easy to eventually get featured in case you pitched your product a few months down the line.
Subject: Found something to build further on your article about autonomous cars
I saw one of your articles on autonomous cars and I think you nailed some very valid points. With the advent of electric cars and artificial intelligence, cars are becoming more intelligent by the day. 
I read an article in The Guardian about the emerging trends in the car market. I thought you would find it very useful, (link). It gives you a lot of interesting angles to explore. 
I think you will find some nice points to build upon your previous article and even write a follow-up article to it, no? 
Let me know what you think about the piece and keep up the good work.
Why this email pitch works
This email pitch that we used a couple of months ago is great for many reasons:
- I started by complimenting the journalist on a story that they wrote.
- I went on to present to the journalist an interesting story from a trusted publication. This story was related to the one they wrote. What this did was build our credibility with the journalist.
- I finally presented the journalist with something they could do after reading the article I sent them.
- I also posed a question to open up the feedback. This offered the journalist an opportunity to get back to me with a yes or no and why. Asking a question at the end means that am opening the door for them to get back to me if they choose to. This ensures that our conversation goes beyond what I pitched and becomes a personal relationship. With this approach, I can pitch my product in the future.
One thing you will notice is that our pitches are very brief. The longest is the second example, with 222 words. The first example has 212 words while the last example has only 113 words. The best startup PR email pitches are supposed to be as brief as possible – I recommend a maximum of 250 words. This should leave the reader wanting to learn more. However, it takes a very long time to write these simple pitches. The first pitch you write is far from perfect. You have to keep refining it until it feels, reads, and sounds right.
Precision with impact is one of the most effective writing skills one can have. ~ Tim Ferriss
Here are some screenshots with some examples of email pitch templates from our site:
For more email pitch examples and templates, we have developed a guide that you can check out: 10 Cold Email Pitch-to-Journalists Templates (Based on persuasive stories).
Must-haves of a killer email pitch
i). Attention-grabbing subject line –
A great subject line not only increases the interest of the journalist in your story but also improves the open rates of your email pitches. If the journalist opens your email, there is a very high likelihood that he or she will read through it. However, if you have a boring subject line, then there is a high probability the journalist won’t even open the email. One thing to note is that all other factors being constant, higher open rates also mean higher reply rates.
ii). Acknowledgement –
This is where you respectfully compliment the journalist on the great work they did on a certain piece. At this juncture, you have the chance to start a discussion by either agreeing or disagreeing respectfully with the opinions of the journalist in a piece that you read. As we said earlier, it’s all about starting a discussion. You can do this long before your actual pitch.
iii). One sentence about your product –
As before, your startup PR goals will be harder to reach if you can’t state what your product does in one sentence.
iv). Demonstration of how the product is solving the problem –
This should be in the most non-technical terms possible. As with your one-sentence pitch, a layman should understand it very easily.
v). Brief illustration of the current situation –
To put things into perspective for the press, provide a brief explanation of what is currently happening in the market. This may include the choices available, the loopholes, the problem you are solving, and the background of your innovation.
vi). An angle of the story –
Providing the journalist with an interesting angle to follow for your story can really give you the upper hand. It shows the potential of your story as if the journalist followed it through.
vii). Invitation to the journalist –
Invite the journalist to ask more questions, or offer to give them a free demo, trial, research, or product to help them have an easy time writing.
4. Find out the best time to reach out
Most outlets have their planning meetings between 8.30-9.30 am and again between 2.30-3.30 pm. Reach out before these times so that the journalists can share your story with their editors. At Pressfarm, we prefer to send our pitches at the beginning of the day, between 7.00-7.45 am. Generally, most people check their emails immediately after waking up and just before they go to bed.
Avoid weekends, Friday afternoons, and Mondays. Mondays are especially not appropriate. After all, this is probably the only day that journalists have to catch up on so many emails from the previous weekend. There is a higher likelihood that they won’t concentrate on your email that much.
A note on time zones
Beware of time zones, holidays, and major events. If you send an email at 8:00 am to a journalist whose time zone is 3 hours ahead of yours, then it means they receive the email at 11:00 am their time. This kind of mistake can mess up your PR strategy. As you can see, media outreach is about more than crafting the perfect pitch. Sending your email pitch at the right time could make the difference between your story being picked up or ending up in someone’s trash folder.
5. Reach out
After you have everything set, just log into your email address and reach out.
6. Follow up
When you don’t hear from a journalist the first time, the first thing is to assume they probably liked your pitch but forgot to get back to you. Wait for a full day to pass then send a follow-up email asking if they got around to reading your email and what they think. You might still not hear from them after sending a follow-up email. In this case, you can safely assume they have probably trashed your email pitch already. You could do one more follow-up if you’re really determined. Even so, remember that it’s usually unwise to send more than two follow-ups.
Not all email pitches will work out as you would like. Soldier on and reach out to the journalist who sent a reply.
7. Submit your startup to directories
When you first launch a startup, the first thing you should do is ensure that it is in front of as many eyes as possible. Directories can become very crucial to your company’s success. These websites usually have millions of visitors per month searching for startups, software, jobs, etc. They are like search engines or the modern version of the Rolodex. Journalists also flock to these directories to look for interesting newly launched companies.
If your company is listed there, you will get a lot of occasional traffic. That may, in turn, lead to more sales or press coverage, depending on your luck.
However, this is very tedious work that you can delegate to a service like Pressfarm. All of our packages include submission of your startup to startup directories. If you’re curious about which directories we submit to, check out our directory listings page.
8. Invest in influencer marketing
Influencer marketing is all the hype right now, and with good reason. Brands that want to reach a wider audience are turning to influencers to help promote their products and services. But why are influencers such a big deal? Because people trust recommendations from influencers more than they trust traditional advertisements that promise heaven on earth. This is especially true now, at a time when more people are spending more time glued to their screens than ever before.
Influencers are seen as more authentic and more relatable than brands that employ impersonal marketing tactics. Members of the public trust influencers so much. Additionally, influencers care too much about their reputations to endorse a brand they don’t absolutely believe in. For these reasons, having an influencer speak positively about your brand earns you a vote of confidence in the public eye.
Influencers are also skilled at producing creative and engaging content. For this reason, collaborating with an influencer could ultimately give your PR campaign the boost it needs.
All I can add now is “Go forth and conquer!”
With the above tips, you can generate the publicity your brand deserves. However, sometimes doing PR while also doing product development is a little more than a handful. If you need more help figuring out startup PR strategies, email pitches, or press releases you can visit us at Pressfarm.