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5 Mistakes Startups Make When Emailing Journalists

More-mistakesWe get a lot of emails from tech companies and startups wanting us to cover their products. Many of those emails get ignored, but some get chosen and end up on our site. What’s the difference? Obviously when pitching to any news outlet you are, to a certain extent, at the mercy of the editors’ whims, but you can greatly improve your chances by not doing any of these things, which are highly annoying and which we see all the time:

1. Not Knowing Who You’re Pitching To

We get a shocking number of emails every day about products and services we would never cover because they aren’t in Asia, aren’t related to web/mobile technology, or otherwise don’t fit into our area of focus. Think about what websites actually cover startups like yours before emailing anyone. If you’re a US-based startup with an English-language mobile game, we’re not going to cover you unless you’ve got a serious Asia strategy or are making major headway here. Similarly, if you’re a Singapore-based scientific research company, we’re not interested in your latest findings because we don’t cover that sort of thing (unless they relate to web or mobile in some way). Sending emails to people who literally can’t write about your products is a waste of your time and theirs.

2. Mass Emails

I swear, somewhere out there there is a email template PR people are told to use that goes like this:

Dear [name probably spelled wrong],

I read your recent article called [article title from 9 months ago] and really enjoyed it. It was really insightful! Since you wrote that, I thought you might be interested in [product that has no relation to that article whatsoever].

Anyone can dig up a link to a random article I wrote and plug it into some form email; whenever I see one of these my assumption is that 100 other bloggers have gotten very similar messages. And often what’s being pitched in these emails is completely irrelevant to what I actually write about. Bloggers are just as susceptible to flattery as other humans, but in this context the compliments come off as manipulative and insulting.

Most journalists can tell very quickly what emails have actually been written with them in mind and what emails are produced by an algorithm and sent to a big list of journalist contact emails you bought from a marketing company. You’re likely to get a better response from five personalized, well-thought-out emails to specific people than you are from hundreds of emails spammed at a list of random journalists.

3. Using the Wrong Language

We know that English isn’t everyone’s first language — heck, it isn’t most people’s first language. But if you send me a pitch in Vietnamese or Thai, I’m not going to read it, because I can’t read it. Do some research and find out who on staff does speak those languages and email them, or get a friend who speaks English to help you with the pitch. We’re forgiving up to a point — I’m never going to reject a startup pitch because it uses bad grammar if the founders aren’t native speakers — but we do sometimes get pitches that are so poorly-written that they’re incomprehensible. I can’t write about something I don’t understand, so if you have trouble getting your point across, find someone to help you with the wording before you press send.

4. Giving the Investor Pitch

mistakeYou probably know a lot about pitching to investors, but what they want to hear is often quite different from what journalists want to hear. Every person is different, but generally speaking journalists are probably going to be interested in your product mostly from a user perspective — what does it do and why is that cool. If you lead with financial information (which I care less about) or basic information about the market (which I probably already know because I cover it every day), I’m much more likely to stop reading before I get to the interesting part.

5. Not Having a ‘News’ Factor

Everybody likes things that are fresh and new, and that includes journalists (and more importantly, their readers). I’m going to be more excited to write about a startup with a product launching next week than I am about one that launched three months ago. Often we get emails from startups that say “We’ve already been covered on TechCrunch” and then link us to an article from a month ago. That’s not a selling point! No journalist wants to be writing a story that somebody already wrote weeks or months ago. Give me something new. A new product launch, a new feature launch, a new strategic plan, new user numbers of financial numbers, whatever. Give me a fresh angle I can use to write a story.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this all actually boils down to two very simple pieces of advice:

  1. Know your audience.
  2. Understand their job.

Many of the people who email us obviously haven’t taken the time to even look at our site, let alone learn about the person they’re emailing. And many startup founders seem to be under the impression that blogs like ours exist as a kind of third-party PR firm that’s going to write a post about their startup just because, even if there’s nothing new or exciting about it and six other competing websites have covered it already.

If you show a journalist that you’ve taken at least a minute or two to learn what they write about and then make a pitch that’s relevant and gives them something interesting and fresh to work with, your chances of actually getting the coverage you’re looking for are going to go way, way up.

(Image sources 1 and 2)

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