Every business, no matter its size, would prefer it received more, positive media coverage. After all, who would turn down free advertising? This becomes truer as the size of the company in question declines, as small businesses often have a difficult time being noticed.
Through my years as an editor and journalist, I’ve built a mental list of things that companies, especially early-stage startups, should avoid doing when speaking to the media. I’m going to help you avoid making the same mistakes that I see every day, bettering your chances of good press.
Before we jump into the list, I should introduce myself as this is my first entry here on Inc. Well. I am the Midwest editor at The Next Web, the Internet’s premier technology publication, and my work focuses on young companies in the Chicago area. I hope that if you are involved with a new firm in the region you can apply my advice.
The first thing that you must not do is cold pitch. You must already know that calling a journalist with no previous introduction is nothing short of impolite, but it is still (incorrectly) assumed that e-mailing a writer that you do not know, and from whom you hope to elicit coverage, is a smart PR strategy. It’s not. E-mails from the blue are not discourteous, but they are ineffective.
Before you reach out to a journalist, establish a relationship. This can be as simple as a short conversation on Twitter, or perhaps an e-mail discussion about something other than your company. Once the writer knows your name, they are far more likely to read your press release, opening the door to them acting on it.
Next, do not mass pitch. Every time you send out e-mails to those you hope will cover your company’s activities, do it selectively. You should attempt to curate a short, but well-appointed list of people in the press who are fair, and whose beat covers your company’s activities. Even if you are the next Bill Gates, if you send me a pitch for a B2B enterprise server solution, I am not going to even read past the first paragraph, as I do not cover such things. Every writer has a niche, find those who will care about what you are doing.
Finally, do not lean only upon words. E-mailed pitches that contain explicatory diagrams, and even short video clips are welcomed by harried journalists bogged down by a loaded inbox. A simple one-minute animated clip that outlines your business will be watched by anyone who opens your e-mail, while your eighth paragraph might as well not exist.
Those are just a few tips. I’ll be bringing you more, and on a number of other topics, in the months ahead.
Alex Wilhelm is a writer and technologist who covers emerging companies in the Midwest. He has worked previously for numerous early stage technology companies, and has a particular interest in watching the social web monetize.