The Press Release Is Dead — Use This Instead

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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. (Here are a few ideas about why asking for lunch/coffee isn’t a great idea). 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 questions listed below are the stock standard questions I would ask of any startup I had never heard of before. And they apply 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.”

(BTW you should read this piece on why your follow-up emails usually don’t work).

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 come 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?) prescribed 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.”

A final word:

A lot of this may sound incredibly arrogant. Perhaps it is.

I don’t dig coal for a living and the Taliban doesn’t shoot at me as part of my job. I’m lucky.

But Journalists have to parse a lot of information quickly now. It helps the sender out if they are told, in black and white, the best way to get noticed and maybe even read. That’s what this exercise was about.

Thanks!

P.S.

FURTHER NOTES, POST PUBLICATION:

[1]. 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?

[2]. Never, ever, EVER contact a journalist and ask them to “Tweet out our startup”. Or anything similar. Tweets imply endorsement. To endorse it, the journalist would have to read all about the product/company/pitch otherwise they would not feel comfortable with tweeting something positive. And they just don’t have time. If they are not writing about the company, there is no incentive for them to bother other than out of personal interest. I get startups asking me to ‘upvote’ them on Product Hunt, or Re-Tweet their tweets. This is just plain insulting. We’re not here to be your free PR machines, EVEN if the person asking might be a friend. Have some professionalism. Do your own marketing. If a journalist, in a personal capacity, feels like Tweeting about a product they like then fine, they can do that. But they are not there to be asked to pimp products. They have real work to do besides anything else.

[3]. If you have given a journalist an exclusive and somehow some other journalist gets hold of the story and publishes before the story was supposed to come out then do this: IMMEDIATELY tell the first journalist (the one you gave the story to) that the story has broken. Do it NOW. DO NOT WAIT until the time you agreed for publication and DO NOT wait for the first journalist to find out from someone/somewhere else that the story they have been SLAVING OVER has already broken. Why do this? Well, if the journalist you gave a story to now knows the story is out, they can rush to get their story out. You will have done them a great service. They will like you and think you are professional. But you must also explain how you think the story came out, such as the OTHER journalist turned out to be so good they found it on their own. But, getting back to your friendly journalist MAY also mean a much more favourable version (to you) of the story getting out faster. If you do not do this, then the first journalist will NEVER trust you to work with them again. But they won’t tell you. They will just think you are a piece of shit. You won’t even know it. And if you gave the story to more than one journalist and told ALL of them they ‘had the exclusive’ then perhaps think about changing your identity and moving countries.

[4] If you want to be dismembered by a former journalist who is now wanted for murder (yours), pitch them a story which already broke a month ago as if it’s “new”. Don’t tell them the product has already been written up. Then wait, as they simply Google the product’s name only to find Wired/The Times etc had it some time ago, and the ‘new’ angle you are pitching is that you opened an office in Belize, staffed by one guy and a donkey. Granted, the donkey was previously with HP. [Translation: Don’t pitch old stories as if they are new].

[5] A good way to stop a journalist from coming to your launch event (or any event) is to send them an invite in a pretty looking graphic which is basically impossible to extract information from or put into a calendar. This is really, really, dumb. At worst, send the information in plain text, so they can copy and past it it in their diary (impossible with a graphic). If you want to be REALLY smart, send them a *calendar invite* with all the relevant info in the notes section. Then all they have to do is click a Yes button and you are more likely to get them to come.

[6] Its generally not considered acceptable to offer an exclusive to more than one journalist. But what if they don’t respond? How much time would you consider legit to offer it to someone else? This depends. You would obviously have to give them a “reasonable” amount of time to respond. The decision also greatly depends on the journalist and what their normal ‘MO’ is and how important their outlet is to your strategy. I, for instance, am often on planes and between flights. But a lot of people wait for me to land and give them a yay or nay because TechCrunch is a big outlet…

[7] I can also recommend a less ranty post on this subject here.

[8] Just to re-iterate: When pitching a story, a PR or a startup must ALWAYS answer these questions: Who are the competitors? Why and how is your company better? And never, ever, say “We don’t have any competitors.” If you don’t have competitors then there is no market for your product. There is also no way for the journalist to frame your story or to better understand the problem you think you are solving. There is no such thing as a company with no competitors. Even if the product feels like a brand new category that has landed in a spaceship, the problem it is solving will still have been approached by someone else before, just in a different manner. Remember your Latin: nihil sub sole novum.

———————————————————————–

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)

WHERE IS THE TEAM BASED? IS IS THE SAME AS THE COMPANY HQ?
(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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