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Rocketspace media ground support for startups

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SHIFT VP Cathy Summers was a part of a panel with reporters on media coverage for startups.

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Rocketspace media ground support for startups

  1. 1. RocketSpace Ground Support: How to Get Media Coverage for your Startup 11/3/14 Panel Moderated by SHIFT Communications
  2. 2. Panelists Josh Constine, TechCrunch Josh writes tech news and opinion for TechCrunch. He specializes in critical analysis of social and communication technologies. His goal is to bring readers deep insight into the ramifications of breaking news from startups and tech giants alike. His beats include Facebook, Google, social networks, advertising, music, dating and social good. Kia Kokalitcheva, VentureBeat Kia is a staff writer at VentureBeat covering early-stage startups. She spends a large chunk of her time writing about funding in addition to frequenting demo days and meeting with small startups. From gadgets to social media, Kia has a wide range of interests in the world of tech. James Robinson, PandoDaily James is a staff writer at PandoDaily. He covers hardware, advertising technology and the Internet of Things. James joined PandoDaily in January 2014. Prior to joining PandoDaily, James was an independent media contractor from July 2010 to January 2014. He is originally from New Zealand. Moderator Cathy Summers, SHIFT Communications Cathy is vice president at SHIFT Communications where she is primarily responsible for managing an aggressive, results-driven account team and providing strategic counsel to her clients. Cathy has 15 years of technology PR experience with specific expertise in the IT security, storage, networking, mobile/wireless and enterprise software markets. Her client roster ranges from early-stage to publicly traded companies. Cathy joined SHIFT in 2003. Previously, she worked at The Ardell Group and Jennings & Associates Communications, high-tech agencies in the San Diego metropolitan area. RocketSpace Ground Support: How to Get Media Coverage for your Startup November 3, 2014 2
  3. 3. Summers: What is your definition of “news”? Note: In order to be covered by the media, you either have to have one of the following: news, data or something interesting and relevant to say. Many times companies think anything and everything they have to say is newsworthy: winning a new customer, new product feature or upgrade, funding, and so on. There are many opinions out there about what is considered news. Kokalitcheva: It’s important to fit into something that’s going on right now in tech. Pitching a story about your “disruption” doesn’t mean anything unless it’s already a trend or I’m starting to see a lot of companies working on something that’s related. That said, at times we can fit you into a trends piece even if you don’t have real news. Robinson: Agree, we get a lot of emails. Just because something happened doesn’t make it interesting. When you send out a pitch think: Why is it interesting? Why would a journalist care? Why would an audience care? Why would anyone want to read about this? Constine: For me, the witness test isn’t about if someone wants to read it, but if they think their friends have to read it. That will help you gauge whether it’s newsworthy. It must be impactful enough that you would think other people will be disadvantaged if they don’t read it. Summers: Do you have to pitch stories to your editors? Constine: No, you just have to sell me on it. All that really matters is whether I’m the right person for the story. If it’s not a fit for me, I can pass it on to the right person if need be, but we don’t operate with editors. My best tip is to think about who you’re pitching and what their strengths are – it’s important to find the right person at the publication. Robinson: Same, I don’t have to get approval for the stories I write. Often when companies pitch you they don’t really seem excited – my advice is to be enthusiastic about what you’re pitching and bounce that enthusiasm onward. Kokalitcheva: The VentureBeat team is really small, so in order to be time efficient we are running things by our editors all the time. We pass stories around the VentureBeat newsroom a lot a well, especially if we get a pitch that is super relevant to someone else on the team. That said, if it’s just a meh pitch, I don’t usually pass those on. RocketSpace Ground Support: How to Get Media Coverage for your Startup November 3, 2014 3
  4. 4. Summers: Does your bar of what’s new and interesting vary from traditional outlets and broadcast media? Constine: Yes, we don’t cover things that would be on TV or if we do, we cover them from a much different angle. You have to think about the audience you are pitching. Mainstream media wants a high-level perspective – they look at how the story impacts everyone. Whereas, I’m in the nitty gritty – people that read TechCrunch care about tech and want to get deeper into the business implications. They want to know how it effects them personally. This is much different than high-level trends stories that are written about in publications like The Wall Street Journal. Summers: What do you think about embargos? Note: In journalism and public relations, a news embargo or press embargo is a request by a source that the information or news provided by that source not be published until a certain date or certain conditions have been met. Embargos are often used so that journalists can conduct interviews and write their stories in advance of the announcement date. Robinson: At PandoDaily, we try to stay away from embargoed stories for the most part. We have limited bandwidth and we run stories from other sites, so it’s harder for us to do them. It’s something that we used to do more and some staff writers may still take them occasionally, but it’s becoming less common. Constine: For me, it depends on what the news is. If it’s something that’s pretty obvious and clear cut, embargoes feel stilted. There isn’t a ton to interpret or get that deep into, so all the embargo really means is that there are a bunch of other people covering the same thing at the same time. I like to know who else is writing the story if it’s under embargo. It’s hard when everyone is writing the same thing, unless it’s a big launch with juicy news – then embargoes can be great, so instead of having a race to be the first one to publish and throwing deep thought out of the door, reporters have time to do more research and wright higher quality stories. Robinson: For early-stage startups to come in on an embargo on something that people don’t know about anyway, and then a reader sees a lot of stories about the same thing at the same time, it nullifies the impact. I would recommend just working with a couple reporters on a really good story. Constine: A cool way to do that is a rolling thunder approach. Trickle out different pieces of the story with other reporters that are well matched. For example, give the funding announcement to VentureBeat, the product news to TechCrunch, etc. Stagger it out there so that there are different executives for each reporter, some get the video element, etc. – make it feel like the stories are different. Kokalitcheva: Agree, I don’t want to write about a random startup that’s going to be covered by everyone else. If you can be authentic and give me the opportunity to make it my story, I’m going to write a much better story. I will want to spend more time on it. RocketSpace Ground Support: How to Get Media Coverage for your Startup November 3, 2014 4
  5. 5. Summers: How do you feel about exclusives? Robinson: You can’t dress up a story by telling me that I’m the only person that gets to write about it. It still can’t be the world’s more boring thing. Constine: Agree, sometimes it makes it seem like the news is worth less. If it was a big deal, you would be able to get big pubs to write about it, even without the exclusive – maybe it’s only you that cares? That said, it is really important to use the word “exclusive” properly. If you’re an early stage startup and have funding or something, find the reporter you want to write five more stories about, and give that one reporter a really important piece of news. Use that as a way to form a bond. On that note, make sure the journalists you’re working with are lifers – there is a lot of turnover in tech journalism, so build strong relationships with the right people. Summers: How about when you write about a company, and then the five competitors pick up the phone and say you wrote about so and so but not us -- want to write about us? All: GO AWAY Robinson: It’s amazing that people think you will write the same story with your name swapped in for the other company. If I write a one-off story on robotics, it’s hard to say that I’m going to write a similar story in such a small time frame. Constine: This might only be topped by when you write a story and someone offers a CEO to provide comment about the space and then it’s completely irrelevant. If you’re going to follow-up with a reporter about a story that they’ve written that’s relevant to your industry, do it from a totally different angle – make it seem as different as possible. Summers: What about when it’s a trend piece? How do startups get your attention so that you know they exist? Kokalitcheva: Be selfless. I once wrote a story about parking apps, and a buddy who is an investor connected me with another company in the space. That CEO had coffee with me and volunteered his knowledge and expertise. He didn’t pitch his company or ask me to write about them. He was human and offered a completely different perspective with selfless insight. Eventually, I did include his company in a story – karma. Robinson: Build the relationship. Be aware of who reporters are. It’s like networking for a job. If you get to know a few reporters who are really relevant to your company, when they sit down to write a trends piece and start to think about who is relevant, you’ll be more top of mind. Do that proactive work in advance. RocketSpace Ground Support: How to Get Media Coverage for your Startup November 3, 2014 5
  6. 6. Constine: You can do a lot with Twitter in this industry. Follow relevant reporters. Favorite their tweets. Comment reply with insight on their relevant tweets. When startup CEOs respond to my tweets, provide thoughtful insight and ultimately make their presence known – I remember that. Good CEOs frequently comment and reply about topics related to what I’m writing about and their industry. It’s not necessarily a pitch, just good relationship building. Robinson: That works for me, too. I might not reply but I look at it and often times I’ll remember that. Constine: Everyone reads their at-replies. At some point, you might get to Bieber status but until then, pretty much everyone is reading their at-replies. I check Twitter more than email. Summers: Do you read the comments on your stories? Constine: If it’s a controversial or polarizing piece in which I think there is an opportunity to learn from the comments, then yes. If it’s a basic piece, I may take a quick scan a few days later. Robinson: I don’t usually read the comments. There are too many crazy people. Constine: Don’t ever try to get PR coverage through the comments. Summers: Any other tips on how to reach you aside from Twitter? What is the best way to stand out? Constine: Don’t send me your press releases. Personally, I liked to be pitched by email. Make sure you have a super informative subject line. In the first sentence, outline the problem and then state how your company solves it. Highlight how many users you have, whether you have famous investors, well-known customers, etc. and then ask if I’d like to set up time to learn more. No pomp about being disrupting, just say what you do. A whole press release in the body is not a good move. It looks amateur, like it was blasted to a ton of people. Also if I have to decrypt your pitch, it’s a shitty experience. Kokalitcheva: Don’t tweet at me. Don’t call me. Don’t be weird. Just email me. I like to use the signaling metaphor – important keywords: launch date, funding, product launch – please no ten paragraph scenario. Quick company name, date, what you’re doing – highlight if you’re co-founders are from a big company like Google or if you’re backed by a well-known VC like Andreessen. I scan for keywords. Robinson: Show me that you’re a human. So many pitches are cliché and feel like they’re coming from a machine. I’m not going to read that – I wake up to 45 emails. Pitches should only be a few sentences long and the person sending them should have thought about who I am and what I write about and why I should care – also, lunch. RocketSpace Ground Support: How to Get Media Coverage for your Startup November 3, 2014 6
  7. 7. Constine: Only call us if you drink with us otherwise, I will hate you. And don’t send me more emails about your previous emails. If you send me an email and then tweet at me, that’s the best way to follow-up. Especially if your email gets buried at like 4 a.m. and I legitimately don’t see it. Otherwise, follow-up emails and phone calls are not good. Robinson: Never call. I’m nice as a person but when people call and pitch, I hate it. People often don’t announce themselves until three minutes in, they finally say where they are coming from. Constine: We want the things that really matter to get talked about. It’s not about personal spite, but we’re just trying to do our jobs. Kokalitcheva: Agree, we’re not just waiting for people to call us. We are busy doing things. I won’t pick up an unknown number unless it’s a scheduled call. Also, if I’ve given you my number for a call please don’t pass it around to other people. Robinson: NO LinkedIn pitches. That’s lower than a call or a paper airplane through your window. Constine: There are some cases when I don’t mind being on the phone, because it’s faster. But as I said, it’s only okay when I know the person and if it’s someone I trust. Robinson: Yes, it ties back into relationship building. Think about who you know. Summers: All of you guys want something a little different. So it’s about knowing how people like to work on an individual basis? Robinson: There isn’t even a blanket way to work with me. Constine: If you call on a Friday or a slow news day, I’m more likely to take the call. Don’t call me in the middle of Facebook earnings. Summers: How many stories do you have to write a day? Constine: We don’t have any quotas. We shoot for overall goodness. There are a ton of different metrics that we look at like writing big scoops or important thought pieces or stories that will drive a ton of page views – it’s a combination of things. Robinson: At PandoDaily we write two stories a day. Kokalitcheva: We shoot for three to four per day, but that gets hard especially if you’re doing a feature or if you’re attending a conference. That makes it hard, but it’s what we shoot for. RocketSpace Ground Support: How to Get Media Coverage for your Startup November 3, 2014 7
  8. 8. Constine (hijacks panel): What are the most stories you’ve written in a day? Robinson: Probably six? But by that point it’s just exhaustion and content coming out. Kokalitcheva: Six or so as well. It was a day where Google I/O was happening and we were trying to pump out five stories in 20 minutes. Constine: Same here, I wrote eight around the F8 Facebook conference. Summers: James, you recently tweeted about Taylor Swift and said that PR people started dropping Swift references in all of their pitches. Tell us about that. Robinson: Either this is a new trend or only people have just started following me. It was horrible. I got a lot of “shake it off” references. Kokalitcheva: I do a lot of angry tweeting about PR people and founders, and people reference them a lot but I’ve only had a couple people reference something funny from Twitter. Robinson: I had someone reference a 9 month old tweet about Jameson. That means they looked through my Twitter feed 9 months back! Constine: I wish I was getting more pitches for underground warehouse raves. I would respect that they know where my passion is. Summers: Any pet peeves? Constine: I hate the phrase “on background.” Don’t use those words, just say exactly what you mean. To some people that means you can use the information but not attribute it to you. To some it means that you can’t reference it in your stories. It’s an easy way to make people angry. Summers: Agree, we advise all of our clients that nothing is “off the record” in a media interview. That only works when you have a really good relationship. Constine: Yeah, you don’t pinky promise with strangers. RocketSpace Ground Support: How to Get Media Coverage for your Startup November 3, 2014 8
  9. 9. Questions from the audience You guys were talking about Twitter – do you prefer to get tweets from personal account of from company account? Constine: I prefer to get everything from the founder. Get them involved if possible. I will be far more receptive. Robinson: I often don’t even look at the account. I just read the stream of replies. I’m not that picky. Constine: Maybe have the person with the most followers respond. Kokalitcheva: The founder is great, but sometimes PR people respond way faster. Constine: I like PR people to get assets, set up interviews, help with follow- up, but for the initial pitch I think it’s better to get the founder. Robinson: It doesn’t matter to me as long as the two people at the company are in contact with each other. And don’t seem like a machine. What is the best time to reach out to you guys? Constine: 3:52 p.m. between Tuesday-Thursday. After the morning news cycle but before I’m mentally done. Robinson: Later in the day. If you’re emailing me at 7 or 8 in the morning, when I’ve first gone through my email, there’s a lot of demand for attention. Email later in the day. Don’t urgent pitch news late on Fridays, but sometimes a Friday isn’t a bad time because it’s slower. Kokalitcheva: Don’t pitch on the weekends. Use common sense. Don’t pitch at 6 p.m. on Monday for a 6 a.m. news announcement – that gives us no time. What is the process for guest posts? Constine: TechCrunch as a guest columns editor, but it is best if you can send it to someone you know. A personal contact at the publication will pass it on to the guest column editors and they’ll vet it from there. IF it’s general enough for them to decide if it’s good enough, they will, or they’ll talk to an expert on staff to determine if it’s a fit. Read: A Guide To Guest Columns On TechCrunch RocketSpace Ground Support: How to Get Media Coverage for your Startup November 3, 2014 9
  10. 10. Summers: Pitch an idea first or a whole article? Constine: They like to see at least partial posts. It’s easy to come up with a great idea but to say anything smart about it is a different story. Robinson: It’s about the same at PandoDaily. Our editors decide. Paul Carr is usually the person that decides. If it’s an interesting idea and the full article is almost done, that’s helpful. Kokalitcheva: If you already have a relationship with someone then you should touch base with the person you have a relationship with. If you don’t know anyone, there is an instruction page on the website about where to send it. Do not send us things that you’ve already published on the Internet – guest posts have to be exclusive. Read: VentureBeat Guest Post Submissions In the essence of relationship building, what is the protocol for saying thank you for writing? Can we send gifts? Just say thanks? Do you accept gifts? Robinson: No gifts. I’m usually up for lunch but there is an ethical grey area – just a simple thank you always works. Don’t say it was good to work with you. You are sources. Constine: Only thank us for things in private. Don’t do it on Twitter. It looks sketchy to anyone else. Personally, I don’t like to be thanked for an article because then it sounds like whatever I wrote is what that person wanted. I’d prefer a follow up with comments on the story, not necessarily just a “thank you” – it’s better if you say something about the story itself was good rather than saying “the story was good for us.” Kokalitcheva: Don’t send me anything. Someone sent flowers once and it was awkward. I have had founders send thank you emails after and I personally don’t mind them because they’re usually from tiny startup founders and they are stoked – I get that. Just don’t send me stuff. Robinson: I got a hand-written thank you card from a CEO with illegible, little kid handwriting. That was kind of cute and weird. Constine: The best “thank yous” are really valuable tips about other companies. If you want to make me happy, tell me who the next $100M round is, the next executive that got poached, company that got acquired, etc. Proprietary information makes me happy. What is the timeframe for news? How far in advance should we reach out? Constine: Never less than 24 hours unless there is some legitimate reason, like you didn’t know it was happening. I really like the 72 hour zone or three business days. RocketSpace Ground Support: How to Get Media Coverage for your Startup November 3, 2014 10
  11. 11. Robinson: If it’s a short time frame, just make sure it’s really important. Kokalitcheva: At least a couple days in advance, but a week is my sweet spot because I can visualize where I’m going to fit you into my week. Two days is minimum. If you’re pitching me with a five hour turnaround, it better be because Apple or someone big is buying you. Summers: Do any of you have a blacklist? Constine: Yes, there is one person that I refuse to work with. They said that a big European startup was launching in the states and set up an in-person interview. I came in and the founders were there with their PR person, and it turned out they had launched in the states nine months earlier, they were just now updating the product in America. Don’t try to pull one over on us. Don’t try to fool journalists. That’s such a dicey move. Robinson: I’ve had a couple people berate me for not covering a story. If someone has actively annoyed me, I don’t want to write about them. Kokalitcheva: I have two people on my blacklist. I bent over backwards to take an interview and at 2 a.m. saw that someone had already published the story. They broke the embargo, so my news editor published the article a couple hours later. At 7 a.m. the PR person called freaking out and asked us to take it down. But the embargo was already broken. Constine: Once an embargo is broken, it’s done. The cat is out of the bag. The embargo is off. For that reason, be extremely precise about time zones. That’s the #1 way embargoes get broken. I’ve worked with reporters a couple times for a story and then they’ve gone completely silent. Why is that and what is the most appropriate way to reach back out to them again? Robinson: Day to day, things just come up. I was supposed to go meet a company in the Valley and was going to be in touch and then it just never happened. It’s okay to follow up to gently remind us – but be sure you speak to us as humans (e.g., you were interested and I understand things are busy, but I did want to follow-up – here’s what we’ve been up to the last couple months). Think about how you would respond if a lot was on your plate. Constine: I think the reason stories fall into the black holes is that they felt really urgent at the time and then a bunch of stuff pops up, and then a few days later that story is a little less timely and more out of date. Then, a lower bar story can bump it back even more and that keeps happening until you’ll write anything else because everything else seems more timely. When that happens, go back and look at the story and figure out what makes it urgent again – some new piece of information, new stats, new launch, new hire, etc. It’s weird to publish anything that feels like it is outdated. RocketSpace Ground Support: How to Get Media Coverage for your Startup November 3, 2014 11
  12. 12. Kokalitcheva: If you pitch me a launch and I somehow miss that time, I’m just not going to write about it later. So what you should do is wait until you have actual news that you can tack on to it and then reach back out. Robinson: Agree, and then there is familiarity so you’re back at the top of the pile. People who are in the midst of building stuff, they just don’t know about the way PR works. There are a lot of people out there that will play by the rules, but it’s tough to learn the rules. Constine: Check out Jason Kincaid’s book, “The Burned-Out Blogger’s Guide to PR.” Robinson: What I’d say to new founders is try to keep in mind two things. 1) If you’re not excited about your company, I’m not excited about your company – put enthusiasm and energy into it. 2) Think about your elevator pitch. That’s the biggest thing. Condense what matters about what you’re doing into two minutes. For new founders, that will go a long way. Constine: With regards to condensing, it comes down to a problem and a solution. Break everything down and all that matter is – what is the problem that you solve for people and how do you solve it. Robinson: A lot of the pitches that come through and the formulas for how a pitch is written is all the same, and then it’s vaguely aspirational writing. Don’t say you are the Uber for Dropbox. Constine: Also, don’t give percent stats for early-stage startups unless you can a put it into context within the bigger industry. That isn’t helpful. Tell us real numbers or we’re not going to put that into a story. Do you guys accept swag? Constine: AOL has a strict ethics policy. If the product isn’t your product, don’t send it to us. If it’s a demo, you can send it with an address for where we can send it back when we’re done. If it’s wine or food, only send enough for us to understand what you do. T-shirts are fine, but we really don’t need any more T-shirts. RocketSpace Ground Support: How to Get Media Coverage for your Startup November 3, 2014 12

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