Entrepreneurs, especially startup founders, have to quickly become adept at pitching. From idea to launch to exit, they are on a 24/7 promotional carousel-with its daily ups-and-downs of continually pitching their venture in order to secure funding, acquire customers and/or promote their offering.
In my various roles from author to investor to content creator and media contributor, I am the recipient of a fair number of unsolicited pitches and more often than not, I cannot determine the capacity in which I’m being pitched. Is the startup seeking investment? Do they want me provide user feedback on their new product or feature? Are they under the impression that their mere existence (or launch of a new feature, landing page or app) is somehow newsworthy and therefore want me to write about it (or tweet it out)? One pitch does not fit all desired outcomes.
The art of mastering the pitch is to align your goal with an understanding of your audience.
Pitching the media however, whether to a writer, reporter, columnist, journalist, editor, blogger or influencer, is not only an art, but a science too. So let’s talk about pitching this particular audience.
You’re likely receiving news alerts on your smartphone so you know this: the media today operates in the extreme environment of information overload. Traditional media and its digital-only competitors battling in a 24/7 news cycle and slugging it out with citizen journalists in real time on Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook and LinkedIn. While the entrepreneur can choose to escape the content onslaught, the media cannot. It is constantly multi-tasking – researching and writing stories while monitoring multiple “news” channels and producing versions of their content to fit the unique format of each platform, all at the same time.
To be heard through all the real, imaginary and fake news, an entrepreneur needs to have a convincing story pitch.
What’s your goal? If you’re simply seeking additional “PR” for your company, your pitch will be in the trash before the journalist or blogger has finished reading the first line of your email.
Here’s an example of a PR style media pitch that went straight to delete in my inbox recently:
51% of smartphone users are not downloading any new apps. Instead, they spend most of their time in their favorite apps, the majority of which are chat apps. To address this, X is a digital assistant on Facebook Messenger that helps people discover and purchase Y, all without ever leaving Facebook Messenger. X has over 15k users and is announcing seed funding of $500k from top investors including …. They also went through [Insert name of accelerator program here].
Sorry X, there is no story here. That you secured seed funding? Your employees care, the media doesn’t. That you have a growing user base? Sorry, not a media story .
To be heard by the media, your goal should be to be helpful not overtly self-serving.
Entrepreneurs have unique experiences and viewpoints, plus they should be experts in the markets they have set out to disrupt. Share your insights and knowledge, and provide context for why the media should have a conversation with you. And always keep in mind the extreme environment the media is operating in. Take the example of X startup above. The story I’d have suggested pitching was: WHY are smartphone owners not downloading apps? What does this mean for the app economy? Are apps relevant anymore?
Your awesome pitch is only as good as your mindset. When you’re pitching the media, you need to step into the shoes of the person you are pitching (yes, behind the faceless newspaper, media platform or email is a person whose attention you need to grab). Ask yourself:
1. How is my story news this person will care to write about?
2. Is my story something people don’t already know and should know about?
3. Is my story a new angle or fresh take on something that has already been reported?
4. Am I an expert on a subject that would make for a compelling pitch?
An effective story pitch answers one or more of these questions. Take a critical look at your pitch with these questions in mind before you simply hit send on a generic funding pitch hoping that “someone” picks it up.
Done with the art (and emotional intelligence) of the media pitch, let’s switch gears to the science. In the same way your elevator pitch needs to grab the attention of investors, your pitch to the media needs to convey a strong headline. Research, draft, practice and re-write your story pitch to the media. Resist the strong urge to simply fire-off a stream of consciousness based on a Tweet or story you read in the hopes that the recipient will “figure out” the angle for you (see my example of startup X above). Remember the extreme environment the media is operating under and in your pitch, explain why your story is newsworthy in 25 -50 words.
Here’s a three-point guide for you to follow when pitching your story:
1. The Headline
2. The Summary
3. The Pitch
Think of your headline as your elevator pitch or mission statement – and realize that your headline could become the title of the article or post. It should create interest and indicate a relevant need. Everyone has a shorter attention span, so your headline needs to grab attention and set your story apart from the massive sea of similar content. Just because you have a new product or feature does not mean you have a headline.
The summary clearly tells the media why they should want to tell this story-in 50 words or less. Don’t leave your summary to chance or intuition or even worse “if you’d like to speak to the founder to explore story ideas” (yes, I’ve received that time-suck of a suggestion). Write and re-write your summary until you have distilled your unique viewpoint into a couple of strong, precise sentences.
Save the big sell for the end in a fuller pitch. This is where you include facts and examples, as well as laying out why you (or your company) are the experts to listen to on this particular subject. Indicate why readers of the publication or site should care about this story or how it impacts them.
There are approximately 30 million businesses in the United States and social media platforms crowded with expert opinions, so if you want your story pitch to be taken seriously, put in the time researching the journalists you want to reach out to and pitching a story idea you know will be read, circulated and tweeted.
Kelly Hoey is the author of Build Your Dream Network (January 2017 / Tarcher Perigee). She has been lauded from Forbes (“1 of 5 Women Changing the World of VC/Entrepreneurship”) to Fast Company (“1 of the 25 Smartest Women On Twitter”) to Business Insider (“1 of the 100 Most Influential Tech Women On Twitter”). Empowering A Billion Women By 2020 included her on their list of the “100 Most Influential Global Leaders Empowering Women Worldwide”. Kelly appears on CNBC’s Power Pitch and works with inclusive companies including Comcast and Capital One. Her career story is one transformation. Kelly’s career started in corporate law. A chance opportunity in 2009 to work with a visionary leader sparked her transition from earning a paycheck to seeking equity. Co-founding a startup accelerator then an interim CMO role are just part of Kelly’s journey of reinvention as an author, influencer and investor.
Kelly’s website: http://jkellyhoey.co/
Build Your Dream Network website: http://buildyourdreamnetwork.com/
Kelly’s Twitter http://twitter.com/jkhoey/