The Press Release Is Dead — Use This Instead

I’m UTTERLY SICK and TIRED of dealing with MILLIONS of tech entrepreneurs (these days there are a HELL of a lot of you) and (some) PR people who have ZERO clue how to pitch me/TechCrunch/the media. Their pitches are long-winded and rambling. They ask if they could ‘send some more information’, as if I care. I have no idea if it’s interesting or not until you send it! Many just ask me out to lunch or coffee. (Thanks, but I prefer drinks, and I also prefer drinks with my *actual friends* — fine if you have somehow become someone I like to drink with!). You see, if I took all these offers up I’d never have to pay for food or coffee again. But I’d also never get any work done. Yes, it is always better to try and form a working relationship with a journalist before pitching them an idea you think they might want to look into. It is always better to RESEARCH what the journalist generally writes about and who their title is aimed at. But you are not going to get your ‘foot in the door’ unless your first interactions are concise and to the point.

In the main all the below applies much more to new startups who have no clue how to approach the media but, incredibly, I still get some PR people who can’t cover off these basic questions in their opening gambit. In either case, their opening lines are often a short email which amounts to “Hi, we exist. Can we have a post on Techcrunch now?” This, of course is utterly stupid.

The most solid pitches come when the startup relates what they do to a CURRENT news story of the day. For instance, say Apple just came out with a new kind of headphone, and your startup has a product relevant to music or headphones. THAT is when you should jump all over the media – while your story is current and you can get into the tail-wind of a hot story. Not 6 months later when we’ve all moved on and forgotten about headphones.

Many opening gambits are very simplistic emails which don’t answer basic questions. Many even say (WHY?!) “Can I send you a press release?”.

Are you kidding me? Are you really kidding me?

I am now going to have to waste 10 seconds of my life replying to you with something like “Hey, so I have no idea if you should send me your press release or not because you know what’s in it and I don’t. So OK, sure, knock yourself out. Join the party in my inbox.”

You are going to save us all time — and visits to psychiatrists — by simply addressing some basic questions FIRST.

Mostly, ‘press releases’ are written in the way a PR’s client would write a news story. They are usually pretty rambling and designed to please the client (read: stroke their ego) rather than assist the journalist to get shit done, and fast. So, I think the press release format is DEAD.

Instead, I have some up with a checklist of things you need to cover off at the opening pitch, before the process of further questions happens. I have EVEN (wow, I’m so helpful aren’t I?) proscribed the number of sentences you should use. Now, the eagle-eyed among you will realise that this is just a rough guide. If you can tell me why your company rocks in one sentence then great. Sure, 3 is fine. But if you have to do it in 50, then, I’m sorry, but you may have a problem understanding and communicating exactly what it is that you do.

Are you going to have to send me 70+ sentences? No. But you MUST at least try to address as many of these questions as possible. Putting it into an easy to digest format, so that the journalist can make a quick decision about whether to start talking to you or not, can be helpful. If this is not your style, then fine. Try something else. Write War And Peace. But I’m just trying to tell you that this is potentially going to save you and the journalist a lot of time. Time is a big deal in the media business…

Sure, granted, the final resulting article might well go into fine detail about what it is you do. It might even be a pretty long article. That’s for the journalist to decide. But if your FIRST interactions with the media is something akin to a chapter of War And Peace, then you have a problem. As I like to say, “50% of being a startup is about communication”. If you are trying to ‘change the world’, then you are going to have to communicate that.

In the first instance, before pitching what you THINK is news, you MUST make sure it actually IS news (like NEW, ‘never been published before’ new!) and follow this format. Savvy PR people will sign off the traditional press release (this product is the world’s leading yadda yadda) with the client but STILL use the below format AS WELL to ASSIST the journalist.

And PLEASE go read my slides and watch the video I have been using to educate startups for the last few years.

Meanwhile, I intend to write less news anyway, and concentrate more on opinion pieces and video.

Some tips: All TechCrunch writers can be emailed on Tips@TechCrunch.com (very high traffic, but it is read). And all European writers can be email on EuroNews [@] Techcrunch.com

If you just want me, I’m on mike [ @ ] techcrunch.com

A note on Subject lines and opening sentences: Subject lines should read like headlines: “Catty, the Uber-for-Cats, Raises A $20M Seed Round” (LOL!). Opening sentence should NOT Read: “Hi Mike, How are you? It’s hot in London huh?”. It should read: “Mike, With the news that Uber has expanded into on-demand Cat Delivery, I bring you a startup that is going to BLOW those guys out of the water and this is EXCLUSIVE for you.”

Thanks!

P.S.

FURTHER NOTES, POST PUBLICATION:

• Should you pitch via a tweet? e.g. “@mikebutcher Hello Mike, Just read Press Release Is Dead & thought you’d appreciate our startup app. We have users & can monetize. DM?” ANSWER: Exactly how much information can you get into this? Can you answer any of the questions below adequately? What do you think…? Here’s a better idea: Answer the below questions in a targeted email to the journalist, then @ reply to them on Twitter and say something pithy like : “Cat.ty is the uber for cat delivery, emailed you just now”. Get the idea?

———————————————————————–

Dear Startup

I’m no longer accepting pitches which don’t ‘get to the point’. Please come back in this format.

Please be aware that even if you fill it out there is no guarantee of coverage. OK, go!

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE NEWS *RIGHT NOW* THAT MAKES YOU RELEVANT *RIGHT NOW*?
(Max 5 sentences)

WHAT IS THE BIG PICTURE HERE? WHAT IS ‘THE STORY’?
(Max 5 sentences)

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM THIS COMPANY IS SOLVING?
(Max 3 sentences)

WAS IT A PERSONAL PROBLEM YOU HAD?
(Max 5 sentences)

DESCRIBE THE GENESIS OF THE PRODUCT?
(Max 5 sentences)

HOW HAS THIS PRODUCT SOLVED THAT PROBLEM?
(Max 3 sentences)

WHAT DOES IT *ACTUALLY* DO?
(Max 5 sentences)

DESCRIBE IT AS IF YOU WERE DESCRIBING IT TO A NON-TECH PERSON ON THE STREET:
(Max 3 sentences)

HOW MUCH TRACTION DO YOU HAVE>
(Real numbers: monthly or daily active users, not downloads or registered)

OK, NOW WALK ME THROUGH THE USER EXPERIENCE:
(Max 10 sentences)

WHO ARE THE COMPETITORS?
(Max 3 sentences)

WHAT ARE THE KEY DIFFERENTIATORS BETWEEN YOU AND OTHER PLAYERS?
(Max 5 sentences)

WHY IS THIS BETTER THAN THOSE OTHER GUYS?
(Max 3 sentences)

HOW DO YOU MAKE (OR PLAN TO MAKE) MONEY WITH THIS?
(Max 3 sentences)

HOW BIG IS THE MARKET IT IS ADDRESSING?
(Max 3 sentences)

WHAT IS THE NEW ROUND OF FUNDING?
(Required: Specify Seed, Series A, etc)

WHO ARE THE INVESTORS?
(Required)

HOW MUCH FUNDING (in $) DOES IT HAVE IN TOTAL?
(Required: Specify Seed, Series A, etc)

WHAT WILL THE MONEY BE USED FOR?
(Be specific!)

IF YOU DON’T HAVE FUNDING, WHY NOT? DOES THAT MEAN YOU ARE FUNDING IT YOURSELF? OR YOU ARE BRINGING IN REVENUES? OR YOU ARE STILL LOOKING FOR FUNDING? WHICH IS IT?
(Max 2 sentences)

WHO IS IN THE TEAM?
(Max 3 sentences)

DO THE FOUNDERS HAVE A COMPELLING PERSONAL STORY IN SOME WAY?
(Max 5 sentences)

WHAT DID THEY DO BEFORE?
(Max 3 sentences)

IS THIS STORY EXCLUSIVE TO TECHCRUNCH?
(Tip: The answer should be yes)

WHY ON EARTH DO THINK TECHCRUNCH READERS *IN PARTICULAR* WOULD BE INTERESTED IN YOUR STORY? BECAUSE THOSE ARE THE PEOPLE I SERVE.
(Max 3 sentences)

IF NOT, WHEN DOES THE EMBARGO DROP?
(Tip: Avoid embargoes! Just give me the exclusive)

OTHER REQUIREMENTS:

ALL INFORMATION MUST BE SENT IN EMAIL IN PLAIN TEXT, NO PDFs / WORD DOCS
(Journalists are often mobile and don’t want to download off mobile)

CONTACT DETAILS FOR FOUNDERS – Mobile / Skype etc

LINKS TO PREVIOUS RELEVANT STORIES ON TECHCRUNCH / MY TITLE

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES ON OTHER NEWS SITES BUT *ONLY FOR OLD NEWS*, NOT THIS NEWS YOU ARE PUSHING NOW. NEVER, EVER, EVER PITCH A STORY WHICH HAS ALREADY BEEN PUBLISHED ELSEWHERE.

*** DO NOT SEND DAMN ATTACHMENTS!! ***

LINKS TO PRODUCT VIDEOS

LINKS TO YOUR PROFILES ON CRUNCHBASE

** NO PDFS! **
(The PDF thing is tedious. OK, put the actual release in text AS WELL. Great. But PDFs cludge up my Gmail and they WILL get deleted along with the original email AND YOUR CONTACT DETAILS when I need my Gmail space back. Just do a LINK to the PDF online somewhere. Then you or your PR client can pay for their own PDF storage rather than ME having to pay for it!)

*LINKS* TO PRESS KIT ON DROPBOX

*LINKS* TO SCREEN SHOTS OF MOBILE APP IF RELEVANT

I THINK THAT’S EVERYTHING…

DID I SAY NO PDFs? NO PDFs!!

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The Olympics has inspired #TeamGB — Maybe now it’s time for #TechGB

This is an unashamedly personal post which I thought sat better on my (slightly neglected) personal blog than on TechCrunch.

Up until The Olympics in London it’s fair to say “The United Kindom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” (to use our full name) had become a pretty cynical place. The economy is in the doldrums, people and businesses are really hurting day-to-day – and we’d had myriad scandals amongst politicians, the banks and big companies. At the same time we’d started to forget our rich past as innovators – Britain was a pioneer of computers, the jet age, and many other engineering and scientific endeavours. But you often wouldn’t know it looking at our press and media. Regularly, the newspapers enjoy running stories of people being ‘stalked’ on social networks, or bemoan the use of video games. Aside from stumbling across heroes like Sir Jony Ive, they too rarely mention the pioneering efforts of technologists in producing these new platforms, or the creativity of the designers and engineers that go into powering the future. Technology is usually something to be feared, not celebrated.

Coupled with the general fascination of the media with people who usually don’t have a lot to offer other than looking perma-tanned on reality TV or chasing the private lives of footballers, and British society didn’t appear to be that interested in an old fashioned concept: merit and sheer raw talent.

Then something weird happened. The Jubilee celebrations kind’ve got us into the mood. We discovered we had neighbours at street parties. We realised the Queen had in fact done a pretty good job maintaining a kind of ‘Britannica’ stability for 60 years. And then the opening ceremony of the Olympics re-introduced us to ourselves, as quirky, funny, but above all industrious, creative and even – with the addition of Tim Berners Lee – capable of creating such wondrous things as the Web.

The opening ceremony reminded us we can do real things, not just obsess about reality TV and superficial appearances. There were plenty of stars, but no egos on display and all the stars had done something REAL. It’s clearly started a debate about, perhaps, a shift towards basing our national identity on merit rather than superficiality. What better representation of the marriage of the Games with engineering and science was there than the picture of the moon rising beneath Tower Bridge, built by the industrious Victorians?

It won’t be immediate. There remains a problem of access to facilities, that some get and others don’t. There remains the problem that paying for our new future may still be tough.

But, inspired by our amazing athletes, the incredible organisation of the Games (which I think most never expected to be so good), and the way London seems to be running like clockwork all of a sudden, the nation may be starting to come out of it’s collective fug.

Dare we whisper that this could be the the best £9.3bn we ever spent?

Dare we hope that we can be a slightly less cynical nation? Oh, we’ll never lose our cut and thrust, our rapier witty response to some news item or other. That will never leave the national psyche, and nor would we want it to.

But maybe, just maybe, when a young entrepreneur turns around and says “I’m going to do this”; or when a girl in a high school puts down her teenage mag full of reality TV stars and tells her friends she’s going to study engineering or science; or when a kid from the local comprehensive comes up with something mind-blowing; then maybe we won’t be so cynical at that point.

Maybe we will, after all, come to think of failure not as the end of something but the ‘feedback’ we needed to go on and get it right.

If #TeamGB inspires something beyond the laudable goal of getting our kids to run and jump and fence and swim and row, if it inspires us to think beyond sport and into other area of our lives and our society, then the Olympics will indeed have been the moment we were wanting for. The moment to fight back and become Great Britons once again.

We’ve had the inspiration of #TeamGB. Maybe it’s time for #TechGB as well.

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How To Deal With Tech Media

Below is a talk I’ve given dozens of times on how to deal with the tech media, especially when you are a tech startup – usually the ‘blogging’ type media these days. It’s not definitive, it’s just my personal perspective, but I hope it’s useful. Underneath is a video of me giving the presentation.

Mike Butcher – Startup Turkey 2015 from Burak Buyukdemir on Vimeo.

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I met Steve Jobs once


I met Steve Jobs once. It was at the launch of the iPhone in the UK in September 2007 (here are my pictures from that day). It was a busy day. A few weeks before there had been a frenzy after the launch in the US. Days after the UK launch I was covering people sleeping outside the store on Regent Street. The iPhone had changed everything. But on that day Jobs walked on stage and did a brief presentation in front of the press and then took questions. I remember being annoyed that Apple PR had shut off the WiFi so we couldn’t live blog! But afterwards Jobs took a tonne of questions and was very open with the press. He was great. Afterwards I though “Shit, when will I ever meet Steve Jobs again?!” so after the press conference I walked up and put out my hand to shake his hand. Heck, I’d met Steve Wozniak (who’d tried in vain to sign my MacBook with a laser pen!), why not Steve? I said “I just wanted to say thank you for making such great things.” I tad glib I guess. But he took it in his stride and shook my hand. His hand shake was firm but light. He smiled. RIP Steve.

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BREAKING: Ye Daily Mail 1381 – Peasants use "printing press" to spread revolt SHOCK [Pictures]

[Following this]

(From 2009)

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Reuters TV asked me about Berlin

When a TV crew rings you up and asks you to appear in a report you generally say yes, though one doesn’t normally know how it’ll turn out. In this case I think Reuters got the story right (embedded below). Berlin is indeed becoming a big startup hub in Europe (and ‘ll be back there again next week, as it happens). Why is this?

First of all: it’s cheap. It’s cheap to have an office there and it’s cheap to live (assuming you can deal with the harsh winters!). It’s also a hub for Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) to get to fairly easily. So if you want to draw on the strong pool of CEE maths and engineering talent, that’s a plus. A drawback is access to capital – although getting a VC to schlep up from Munich or down from Hamburg isn’t impossible, and some VCs, like Earlybird, have even chosen to locate there. For some reason the city of Berlin also has a lot of ‘mindshare’ amongst Americans. I guess we have JFK and Obama to thanks for that – but also there are strong art scene connections.

Berlin was traditionally known for ‘startup factories’ which would produce clones of US tech businesses. But a home-grown scene of startups which have an international reach (and usually in international staff) is what is making the waves these days.

Berlin isn’t the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ of startups in Europe by any means. The clusters around London, Paris, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, the Nordics, etc etc continues to produce great companies. As far as Moscow, Belgrade and Ljubljana, you name it, all over Europe there is a flowering of innovation right now. But Berlin has a lot of the attention at the moment, so they might as well ride the wave.

Startups make Berlin European tech hub

“Reuters: July 26 – Germany’s capital city, known for its creative spirit and affordable living costs is attracing young entrepreneurs and startups like Soundcloud and Wooga, as it becomes Europe’s technology hub. Joanna Partridge reports.”

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Lessons Unlearned: The Lame Startup

Some of the following examples are the kinds of things all bad startups do. But a few of them are particular to European startups. Let’s see…

I come across a lot of immaturity in the startup market in Europe. Some of it is accidental. Some wilful ignorance, created because people simple won’t inform themselves.

So here, dear reader, is your cut out and keep guide to how not to do a startup in Europe.

Let’s start off with money.

Stay really dumb about money. Don’t read anything. Subscribe to no blogs about how venture capital works. Next up, confuse venture capital with startups and assume you simply must have an Angel round. Avoid working out a business model which may actually bring in revenue. Cashflow always beats taking investment — but you’ll ignore that.

Instead, concentrate on looking good and courting investors instead of getting traction with users. Don’t work out how to build a product and win users. Just go out there with a business plan and nothing to show that you can execute.

Raise as much money as possible even if you have no idea what you will do with it and don’t bother with Lean Startup thinking.

When raising capital get no competition going amongst investors to offer you a term sheet. Avoid talking to more than a handful of potential investors. Then, at the first sniff of funding, give an Angel with no experience in technology far too much equity, leaving little to interest a VC later who might do follow on funding. Make sure you choose your investors based on their inexperience and lack of connections that could help your business.

Once you have your investment, instead of actually building an awesome startup, obsess about exiting the business thus ensuring its failure. You should also make sure to ignore the companies that might be potential acquirers. You are far better than them anyway. Seek no advice form any entrepreneur who’s done it before. Go it alone.

Always remember that when you are an entrepreneur the most important thing is to be secretive, share nothing and tell noone what you are doing. That way there is no way you can test your ideas against the feedback of the tech community. In Europe, it’s better also to not look outside your country’s borders — in case there might be opportunities for collaboration.

Regarding your product, there is a lot of work to be done here. First of all pack so many features and services into it that users are totally confused and gradually lose interest. Make sure your CEO has no experience of Product Management and always assume your engineers understand product.

If your startup is a clone of a US startup, then assume it will work, because it worked in the US, right?

Pay no attention to user experience and make sure you iterate the product as slowly as possible and rarely. Ignore user feedback, but if you must, pay attention only to the feedback which merely confirms your strategy, rather than the users who suggest improvements. Obsessively stick to your roadmap and avoid “pivoting”.

Better still, don’t build your product at all. Hire an agency! You don’t want a team that works on passion and dedication. Just one that works on a client fee. Besides, sourcing teams from anywhere based on talent, able to work on Skype and Yammer, is so tedious.

When you launch, make sure it’s in a small market with little prospect for growth. Tell everyone you will launch internationally “later”. To that end, ignore a US version.

The actual launch should be preceded by a lot of PR that you are about to launch and how awesome the company will be. Make sure this goes on for months, even a year, so that when you do finally launch the press and bloggers can be underwhelmed.

When talking to investors and media never rehearse your pitch. They like it that you stumble over your words and can’t say anything coherent about your strategy — it creates authenticity. They also enjoy that there is no real news of story around your startup that would interest their readers or bring their site traffic.

Make sure that, in the case of social networks you try to create a brand new one. Don’t use Facebook Connect or Twitter OAuth to allow log ins. You will be bigger than them anyway and users really enjoy creating more profiles.

Do all these things and you are sure to have the most successfully Lame Startup in Europe. Now get to it!

[This post originally appeared on 24waystostart]

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Joining the Digital Advisory Board to the Mayor of London

I am just out of the first ever meeting of the brand new Digital Advisory Board to the Mayor of London (a pro-bono post). I am absolutely delighted to have been invited to join the Board for all the obvious reasons. But, to add a personal note, I was also born (in Hammersmith) and raised in London, and have lived in London for most of my life. I’m a great believer in this city. But through my work with TechCrunch Europe, I’ve also become acutely aware of London and the UK’s place in Europe as regards the technology scene. And I feel that there really is going to be an exciting period going forward where London can start drawing together many of the technology trends in Europe and globally.

I want to pay tribute to the office of the Mayor of London and their foresight in putting this team together. I’m humbled to be able to sit alongside people I hugely respect in the tech scene, and I am really looking forward to working with them and with his Economic Advisor Anthony Browne and Emer Coleman, London Alliances Project Director, who in practice heads up the London Datastore, a fantastic Open Data initiative.

The London Datastore has already done a lot of work putting a great deal of data from the GLA and London Boroughs online for apps developers and startups to use. It’s an exciting time right now given the innovation that’s happening around open data and the new mindsets trickling into the public sector about how this data can be used both for economic innovation and the public good.

As the announcement says, the Board will support and advise on the Mayor’s digital projects including the London Datastore, WIFI London, The London Card and the proposed single non-emergency number for London. But while doing that I’m sure we’ll have conversations around the wider creation of economic, social and civil capital in London, using technology.

What next? As well as all the above, personally I want to hear your feedback on how we can make London sing and hum in terms of the wider technology and innovation eco-system. Where are the blocks, where are the barriers? I am looking forward to conversing with everyone around these issues and helping the Mayor’s office address these.

I’ve worked with the awesome Elizabeth Varley on creating TechHub to try and solve some of the problems. We can do more. Much more.

Interestingly I’ve seen #BorisDAB appear as a hashtag on Twitter – that might be pretty handy going forward.

Aside from myself, the other members of the board (to quote The Evening Standard, but with added Twitter handles) are:

Professor Jonathan Raper -who has worked to bring the power of geospatial information to users for over 20 years. @madprof

Emma Mulqueeny -is a founding Director of Rewired State and is one of Britain’s leading digital communication strategists and communicators. @hubmum

Paul Clarke- has worked with many government departments and local authorities on technology and organisational strategy. @paul_clarke

Chris Thorpe- formerly a research scientist has been involved in projects as diverse as social worlds for 7 – 11 year olds, video archives of Nobel Prizewinners telling their life stories, a James Bond Premier Webcast and putting contemporary sculpture on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth. @jaggeree

Toby Barnes – is the Managing Director of the Mudlark Production Company. @TobyBarnes

Chris Taggart -is the developer behind OpenlyLocal.com a project that opens up local government data and now has in-depth information on over 150 councils across the UK. @countculture

Christopher Osborne -is Business Development Director for ITO World providing transport intelligence for transport professionals and passengers. @osbornec

More coverage:
Barnes joins Boris’ digital London team
BOJO ANNOUNCES DIGITAL ADVISORY BOARD
Boris Johnson announces appointment of City Hall Digital Advisory Board
London Mayor announces Digital Advisory Board
Boris Johnson appoints digital advisers

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Number 10 Downing Tweet

Downing Tweet from whcinsider on Vimeo.

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Wordle cloud of Twitter lists I am listed on

mikestwitterlists

How did I do it? I took all of the names of the Twitter lists I am on and ran those phrases through Wordle. Simples.

It’s produced a reasonably accurate portrayal of the kinds of things I do and am known for. But then I have the privilege of being on a lot of lists. Someone who has less of a public role (i.e. not a journalist or well known blogger) may not produce quite as useful a result.

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