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How to use email to seduce journalists into covering your event

Almost every weekday, I am invited to several events related to tech, business, or entrepreneurship. And this is in Manila, Philippines – our tech and startup ecosystem is much smaller than those of my colleagues in other countries. I can only imagine how many events go on in Japan or China at any given time.

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Photo author is Joi Ito.

So as much as we’d like to attend all these events, we have to choose from the lot, as we can’t be in two places at once (damn you physics). If you want to get journalists to pick your event, you’ll have to sex up your emails. Here are some tips on getting that makeover done.

1. State the best time to arrive at the event

Many events state a time range (“10:00 am to 3:00 pm”), but often don’t elaborate on it. Is this open entry and we can come and go as we please? Or do we have to be there at 10:00 am sharp because there’s a program of some sort?

You should clarify that point and take it a step further if it’s open entry. Identify which part of the time range would be best for the journalist to attend. For instance, if you’re running a 48-hour hackathon, you cannot just leave it at that level of detail and expect the journalist to guess when would be the best time to come.

Instead, you should state when the most important highlights occur (keynote speech, live demo, awards ceremony), so that the journalist can elect to come during one of them. He can take notes on the most important parts and get quotes from the right people.

2. Name why it would be good for them to attend

Entice the journalist by stating why they should attend the event. Doing so requires that startup folks put down their entrepreneurial hat and put on their journalistic one. So what are journalists after? The next big story would be a common answer, but it requires an addendum: journalists want the next big story to be theirs. So if your invitation is an exclusive coverage or a select coverage (only a few journalists are invited), state that somewhere in the email.

Also, journalists have to network so they can make business contacts who will give them the scoop on the next big story. So state in your email if CEO X, who is generally unreachable but will be at your event in the flesh, is going to be there. If you could give a warm introduction to him, even better. State that in bold.

Exclusives and business introductions will be your main bargaining chips, but your arsenal is only as limited as your imagination. If you know a journalist is just starting out and seeking mentorship, perhaps you could introduce him to the media veterans who will be attending your event. If you know a journalist freelances on the side, perhaps you could introduce him to the other publications sure to be present at your launch.

See: 5 mistakes startups make when emailing journalists

3. Do not attach the invitation to the email

Here’s a formatting tip: Don’t make your invitation an attachment to the email. We realize that you have a designer, and he or she is probably really talented (and under-worked in some cases), but the extra graphic in the corner is not worth the extra time it takes to download the .pdf file bit by bit via Philippine internet.

This approach never made sense to me. If ecommerce companies try to minimize the number of clicks it takes a customer to buy something, shouldn’t entrepreneurs also try to minimize the number of clicks it takes a journalist to find out where and when to show up?

The number should always be one. As in, one click should be all it takes to open the email. The details of the event should be right there in the body and be readable in one glance. Cut back on walls of text and state the date, time, and location at least twice, and at least once in bold.

4. Put in relevant hyperlinks

Another formatting advice: After a while every press release tends to read the same, so it can be hard to tell which event is really newsworthy. Journalists, in these cases, usually use Google Search to see what’s being said about your company. This is an easy enough task, but why make them do any work at all? You don’t want them to associate your company with inconvenience, no matter how minor.

In my mind, it’s well within your power to include a few hyperlinks in your email (again, this is the body, not an attachment) to relevant sources. The no-brainer would be your own company’s website and blog. You should also link to any interviews, features, and articles about your company under the friendly banner: here’s what other people are saying about us.

Yes, the journalist will probably end up using Google Search to look you up anyway, but at least then his frame of mind is one of fascination (from having clicked on the tantalizing links you provide) rather than one of confusion (“So are these guys legit?”)

5. Confirm that the venue is central

Before emailing out your invite, check one last time if the venue is central. And by central, I mean accessible to most bloggers and writers. In the Philippines, this area would be Makati City and Fort Bonifacio. I raise an eye at events that do not fall within this greater region, especially when they seem to have no deliberate need to do so (i.e. they need a small stadium that seats at least 5,000 people).

I promise you the issue is not one of laziness. In countries like the Philippines, where traffic is notoriously nightmarish, your work time can be eaten up on the road. Even attending an event in Quezon City, which is not far from where I live, could mean a back-and-forth commute time of four hours. That’s half a work day stuck in the back of a cab.

If the venue is not central – whatever your country’s version of Makati City and Fort Bonifacio are – I suggest you postpone your event. The time spent looking for a more accessible venue will be worth it in the amount of additional journalists and bloggers that will come. You don’t want anyone to be thwarted from attending your event because it pitted them against several hours of traffic.

Editing by Terence Lee

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