How to Get Press for Your Startup

Your Story HereTop Reporters Share Tips at Enterprise Tech Meetup

New York Enterprise Tech Meetup is one of my favorite tech events in the city.  So I quickly signed up when my friend John Kaczala (also a NYETM regular) alerted me to the January session, about getting press for startups, and its star panel of tech journalists: Jonathan Shieber of TechCrunch, Robert Hackett of Fortune, Alex Konrad of Forbes, and Jing Cao of Bloomberg.

This meetup was interesting for several reasons. Most startups would be thrilled to get coverage in any of these publications – yet this can be a tall order. So it was nice to hear about the journalists’ preferences first hand. These are NYC-based reporters, who are closer to home than Silicon Valley-based press.

The moderator (Mickey Graham of Work-Bench) asked great questions, and the panelists answered – it was all very amiable and informative (I thought there might be more fireworks, given the competition in tech journalism).

Some common themes emerged. Warm intros help. You should know the reporter and publication, and tailor the pitch. But pinging them on a topic they just wrote about likely won’t work. They do try to read your emails, but can’t respond to all. Be interesting but brief. Follow up but don’t spam. Embargoes and exclusives can work, with certain caveats. Disruption is a great story.

The demo portion is an important part of every NYETM, and I should mention that were some very cool demos before the panel took the stage – see the end of this post for further details. But first, the panel Q and A:

How do you feel about startups reaching out to you?

  • Cao reads every email. “Send an email and follow up in week.”
  • Hackett welcomes pitches, but doesn’t respond to all.
  • Konrad he hates calls. Emails are fine, he likes intros.
  • Shieber reads emails too: “You never know when the next pitch is going to be a great company.”  He added “one follow up is fine, the third time is never a charm.”

How can they rise above the noise?

  • Shieber: “Warm intros are the way to go.”

Does it help to bring on a PR firm that has relationships?

  • Cao said it depends on stage of the company, and helps if the firm has the right connections.
  • Konrad pointed out that he was a mentor-in-residence at Techstars, and said: “PR firms can help if you’re really aligned. Be up front from the beginning about your goals.”

What news does it take to get covered?

  • Hackett doesn’t do product news. He said “be interesting, stick to core aspects. Make it as short as possible.” He likes to learn about esoteric subjects, and covers cyber security, but you can pitch him even if you’re not in that field.  He has a “hopper of ideas” that he lets “marinate” and is receptive to pitches and briefings that help him advance these stories.
  • Konrad gets a lot of product pitches. “If the news has a surprise, or challenges an incumbent like Apple, send it to me.” Otherwise you’d be better off pitching a blog.
  • Shieber: “Know your audience, don’t pitch me the same thing you would to a trade publication.”
  • Cao likes to meet people and doesn’t need a specific story. If she gets to know you first over coffee, then she’s more likely to recall you and be receptive to a pitch.

What about exclusives and embargoes – do these work?

  • Cao: “It can help with coverage, but is not a sure thing.” She added that Series A funding can be a tough sell to an editor if it is less than $40M.
  • Hackett: “Exclusives can make a difference, they can help.”
  • Konrad: “An embargo feels contrived.” Also, don’t contact him with the news that you’re announcing funding tomorrow, it is too short notice. Work within the journalist’s timing.

How far in advance should a startup pitch before news goes live?

  • Shieber: “It depends on complexity of story.”

Whom do you want to hear from? Should the pitch come from the CEO?

  • Shieber doesn’t want to speak with marketing, he wants to be able to ask probing questions.
  • Alex disagreed, saying that marketing can be helpful if they advocate for a story, or push the CEO to get a customer for example.
  • Shieber: “But you’d want to speak to the CEO, right?”
  • Cao urged not to promise something that you can’t back up.
  • Hackett:”Fortune prides itself in our relationships with top executives.”

What about contributed articles?

  • Shieber: “That is my job, I love getting contributions.”  He prefers quality over quantity, adding “but quantity is a great way to make money.” He also added that he likes new writers, and tries to champion them.
  • Konrad said they love contributors, but reject stories that are overt marketing. “Don’t be intellectually insulting,” he said.

The following questions were from the audience:

How do you validate pitches? Does it help if a major VC is a backer?

  • Shieber said “I trust but verify.” He added: “Just be good, be right.”
  • Konrad tries to find out about your expertise, and understand motives – e.g., why are you so interested in weighing in on Apple’s news?

What milestones do you care about?

  • Cao: “Dramatic growth, like going from $0-100M in one year.”
  • Konrad: “Anything your peers would be shocked about, e.g. getting your first $1M contract. Milestones that change the broader market.”

What about getting scooped by social media? Which platform is a viable competitor?

  • Konrad: “CB Insights does a good job of checking filings.”
  • Shieber is seeing more people circumvent the press process, e.g. by issuing a Medium post.

What about pitches that refer to one of your stories? Do they work?

  • Cao said that if she just wrote about something, she doesn’t want to think about revisiting the topic for another year. Just ask for a meeting.
  • Shieber: “Be succinct. Point out how your news fits in a trend.”
  • Hackett: “Save us time.”

Before the panel, two vendors showed their wares. Datavore, founded by Goldman Sachs alumni, demonstrated adaptive analytics for financial services that empowers business users with sophisticated BI capabilities.  VTS demonstrated their cloud-based commercial real estate leasing and portfolio management platform.

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