The oxygen of publicity – how to grab the attention of journalists
“Who are these people, why aren’t they answering my emails and are they even interested?”
It’s a cry of heartfelt frustration. And if you’ve ever tried unsuccessfully to pitch a story to the press, you may well have uttered something similar. You may even have used more colorful language.
Attempting to attract the attention of journalists can often seem like a uniquely unrewarding undertaking. Your company has a “great story to tell” – perhaps a product launch or successful funding round – and you send it to upwards two dozen writers that have a track record in writing about the sector in question. Two dozen e-mails and absolutely no replies.
At this point, cynicism can begin to take hold in a big way. Tech journalists are hungry for source material. A writer with maybe eight or nine thousand words a month to file relies on a constant flow of news stories, ideas and insights. To succeed they need to forge relationships with businesses in the sector – either directly or through PR agencies – and industry commentators. And yet, the journalists who write about your industry, and who should be keen to talk to you, aren’t responding to your emails or returning your calls. There is clearly something wrong.
All of which begs the question, what does it take to get coverage? Could it be that you need insider contacts to even get on a journalist’s radar screen? And is it essentially impossible to get your company featured in the press, unless you have friends in the right places?
But let’s put that cynicism to one side. Actually, it isn’t that difficult to secure press coverage. The secret lies in understanding the media marketplace in terms of what journalists – and the publications they contribute to – are looking for. Once you know that you can begin to create a media strategy.
The Same But Different
So what does that mean in practice?
Well, the first thing that has to be said is that the media ecosystem is more complex than it looks. Take tech journalists. There are hundreds – possibly thousands – of writers working in this field, but they are not a homogenous group. Some are technology journalists pure and simple, others are essentially business journalists who happen to specialize in the tech sector. Viewed through another lens, you find journalists who are most at home chronicling the latest trends in the enterprise software market – a distinct breed from those who follow the progress of up-and-coming startups. Then, of course, there are consumer journalists – a group that not only includes reviewers of smartphones, laptops and apps, but also cultural commentators, charting the impact of tech on the way we all work, rest and play.
To cut a long story short, journalists specialize. To capture their attention, it’s important to research their output and give them stories they can use. This isn’t necessarily easy – there is a lot of copy to wade through – and it can help to work with a PR agency that is already familiar with the landscape.
The Media Landscape
Journalists don’t exist in a vacuum – their work is distributed through blogs, online and print magazines, and local, national and global newspapers. The nature of their work is defined by the requirements of these publications.
It’s a complicated landscape. You’ll find tech, news, analysis and feature articles in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Economist and Forbes – to name but a few – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the major media brands, there are generalist business and technology titles and hundreds of specialist “trade” publications, many of them blogs. They all have their own target readers and business models. And they all cover technology in their own way.
So here’s the crux of the matter. If what you’re pitching is a product launch, the appointment of a new CEO, or a funding announcement, there are a lot of publications – usually on the “trade” press side of things – that will cover your press release as news. But a lot of journalists and publications won’t be interested in a plain vanilla announcement.
What they are looking for is a story they can get their teeth into.
What’s The Story?
Let’s take an example. Let’s assume for a moment that your company has raised $10 million in additional Seed funding, which is expected to take you through a Series A round, probably next year. Is this a story? Well, it could be for the following:
- Blogs covering your sector
- Trade Magazines covering your sector
- Publications covering VC finance deals either globally or in your geography
- The business pages of your local press
Happily, there’s a fighting chance that all of the above will run a story based on the press release, but to win coverage in a more generalist business or tech title – think Forbes, Wired or TechCrunch or the FT – what’s required is something that has resonance with a wider group of readers.
So ask yourself, what is really important about that funding announcement. What will catch the eye of a reporter or editor? Well, what if a significant percentage of that $10 million is to be spent on developing technology that will help solve the post-Brexit Irish/UK border problem. Suddenly, you have a headline – Startup Earmarks $10 million For Irish Border Fix – and a story.
Assuming the headline is justified by the facts, that may be enough to secure additional coverage – especially if it lands at a time when the Irish border is in the news. But the impact might not be immediate. For instance, two weeks down the line, a writer may be commissioned to write a feature on just this topic. With any luck, the journalist will remember your email, scroll back to find your details and get in contact.
There are some broad principles here. Trade publications exist to provide market intelligence to people working within a sector and they carry a lot of specialist news. Beyond the trades – unless your company is a very big deal already – reporters aren’t necessarily interested in your company per se. But you can provoke their interest, by emphasizing the parts of your company’s story that speak to current issues and problems.
So if you’re launching a product, properly explain why it is disruptive, or how it will solve a well-publicized problem, such as money laundering or pressure on national health services. If it’s a funding round, find an underlying story. The more topical the better. And to present yourself, or your CEO as a thought leader, publish a survey or market analysis based on customer data. Or simply offer comment on a hot news story, explaining why you are a credible commentator.
And remember all that market research. Pitch to the journalists and editors who are most likely to give you coverage. There is a lot of hard work involved, but it pays off.
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