Startups, pitch for journalists like you wanted to a VC

Unicorns, rainbows, seeds, forefathers, angels … my head was spinning when I changed fields a few years ago. After a decade in PR, communications and journalism – after working mostly for the ‘big guys’ with their big partners like Sony, P&G, HP, Cisco, Netflix, etc. – I entered the crazy world of startup PR . I was a complete novice here, and honestly thought VC meant ‘video chat’.

But the shift meant more than learning a few new acronyms. When you say to a journalist, “Hi, I’m from Google,” yes, they know for sure, without you having to introduce yourself. When you say “Hi, I’m from [insert startup name, anyone from pre-seed to series A]”, it’s hard to sell.

I swim quite comfortably in the starting water now, but it has been a learning curve. I need to understand the differences between doing PR for big global names, any old SME and doing it for startups of all sizes. The biggest lesson? Pitch for journalists as you pitch for VCs.

So here’s how I came to that conclusion along with my observations, humorous insights and honest thoughts that are perfect for:

  • Early startup founders who are not sure what to expect from PR
  • All startup founders who expect to be on the cover of the Financial Times

Let’s dig in!

1. PR can really have an impact

If you land a good chunk of cover for Sony (hey, my old employer), you fill in a row in a cover tracker, and … that’s all. Finished work.

Do not get me wrong, absolutely, there is room for PR as a tool for large companies that has been established for years now, but the impact it provides is usually nowhere near what you can do for a startup at any point. .

After landing a full-blown piece on the BBC for start-up, my client told me they had a pipeline of 30 bluechip companies on the back of the cover.

This has been one of my favorite, most rewarding startup moments so far – I actually made an impact for the company, for the individual founder trying to change the world through the power of technology. I thought that was fantastic. So yes, PR can really do that for startups.

Note: this is by no means a selling point. I, or any other PR, can not promise anyone to get them on the BBC. Moreover, if your value proposition is not strong or the timing is not right, no coverage will do a miracle for you. But that’s for another article.

2. It is difficult (to stand out)

Figures provided by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and analyzed by Tech Nation showed that almost 20,000 tech startups were born in the UK in 2020. This means that every 30 minutes there was a new entity fighting not only for the attention of VCs and customers, but also for the journalists you want to write about you. Not to mention your global competition.

People like TNW, Sifted, Techcrunch and UKTN get hundreds, if not thousands of PR pitches a day.

“I receive about 70-80 individual interview pitches in a day, and when it comes to presses and op-eds, the mailbox sometimes goes over 500. It’s just crazy in this end,” said Akansha Srivastava, editor at UKTN.

In other words, this place is crowded like Borough Market on a sunny Saturday. You need more than just your innovative (journalists dislike that word) idea or solution (or this one, really) to stand out. And never try to buy them – just in case.

Also, keep in mind that nationals often do not have dedicated startup writers, and technology journalists must follow editorial rules – often outlining the criteria you must meet to look credible enough to the reader.

Like the investor mentality, if a journalist decides to write about a startup at an early stage, they would choose one they think will fly, so in five years they can say, “I was the first to write about them. , when they were a 20-man team, and now they have to be listed. “

So you have to work hard to convince them that there is a place for you in the market.

It’s useful and fun

From bone conduction technology and voice recognition to Bitcoin and IoT, I love watching innovation happen from the front row. And it’s not just about technology. I have been fortunate to meet some inspiring founders, marketers, writers and salespeople, mostly full of passion and drive. And some of them are damn good at telling stories.

As mentioned, it often takes much more than just a good product to stand out among the 100s of competitors’ pitches. On the journey to what we PR people call ‘storytelling’, startups often also learn a lot about themselves.

They discover new aspects of their product, gaps in brand positioning, and the founders meet some amazing journalists and pick up a few things in person. So PR is a useful exercise that can also help shape your pitch for investors and leads.

The startup community is click-like

Good news, it’s not too big – yet. You can quickly find a way to recognize the best startup journalists, Sherpas, VCs and mentors.

Bad news, everyone knows everyone, and it can feel a bit… clicky for an outsider – more than other groups of journalists I’ve worked with.

So it’s really worth the effort to spend some time and energy building personal relationships with journalists. As for my previous point, keep in mind that a top journalist speaks to both your competitors and VCs so these guys know a lot and there is a lot of information you can get from them too.

5. The bulls and the bears – timing matters

The risks and adrenaline involved in raising a startup are not that unequal to trading, and in my experience, most founders fall into either the bull or bear category.

I’ve met startup founders who wanted to go all in … all the time. It was usually the guys who wanted to be interviewed by Forbes after their $ 200,000 pre-seed funding. I’ll let it sink for you.

Some – not many – actually do not want to be on the front pages of national newspapers. They want to stay quiet, especially in the beginning, and carefully pave their way before giving too much away to competitors.

While considerations of timing when it comes to publishing news are important for a company of any size, it is paramount in the world where groundbreaking innovations and the battle for investor attention play roles in the same field.

6. Expectations are often as realistic as the probability of meeting a unicorn in real life

Your startup is your baby and you only want the best for it (read coverage in FT or ‘at least’ Techcrunch). And what do you base this expectation on?

  • You are just launched and you want to change the world
  • You have £ 10m Series A funding
  • Or £ 90 million in Serie D.
  • You grow 50% year by year

While this is all good news for your business – any journalist (and a solid PR person) will ask – in the nicest way possible, ‘and what?’ There are thousands of others, what is the impact you are making?

From being rejected 186 times to living the startup dream

I recently read an insightful and honest article by Pavlo Maherovsky and Sam Gluck, the founders of Honest Health, called “From being rejected by 186 investors, to being acquired by the market leader: Honest Health’s tale of resilience.”

In the article, Founders Factory’s alumni entrepreneurs talk about the experiences they’ve learned about fundraising. Here’s my take on how the bumps in their journey relate to selling stories to journalists:

  1. You need to optimize your story – Yes, your business history needs to be well thought out, both for investors and journalists.
  2. Understand where you fit into the ecosystem – VC is fractal and so is the media world, different journalists focus on different parts of the ecosystem. That is why research is key.
  3. Investors prefer lines over dots – Journalists do that too, they want to see traction.
  4. Momentum is everything – Your first check will probably lead to the second, and the same goes for media coverage.

That said, you’ll probably get rejected a few times before you get a buy-in from a journalist, and that’s fine, it’s part of the journey.

But if you spent months fine-tuning your pitch deck and then just sent a few generic emails to the best startup journalists and expected them to know you and love you and write about you … you’ll probably end up with being disappointed.

My advice to founders is to think of journalists as key figures in the startup ecosystem. Do not expect miracles from one day to the next from your PR team.

I like to think that (almost) anything is possible, including FT coverage. After all, who would have thought that unicorns would become a real thing 20 years ago, right? But always be aware that good coverage requires time, effort and creativity.

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