January 6, 2015
With International CES this week, press pitch emails are flying right and left and everyone's trying to stand out among the crowd at CES 2015. How do you make sure your startup’s story gets heard?
In his ebook The Burned Out Blogger’s Guide to PR, former TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid presents his formula for an ideal email pitch (along with many other tips on press interviews, when and whom to pitch, and how to get inside a reporter’s mind).
Here’s what he advises entrepreneurs to include:
Start with a few sentences about what led to the idea for your company or your mission. This includes introducing yourself as the founder (preferable over being a PR person and middleman) and any related credentials you have – say, you worked for 10 years in the field you’re trying to disrupt. The story should give us some clue about why we should care – what makes it interesting and newsworthy.
Most reporters (including Kincaid) will tell you that ignoring your competition or saying you don’t have any is foolish. You end up appearing ignorant, arrogant, or sneaky.
Plus, talking about competition actually gives us some context for what you’re doing – we know where to situate you in our minds. And you don’t actually have to name them; you can just say “other solutions for X.”
(The startup cliche is to say that you’re “X for Y”: Airbnb for boats or Pandora for dresses. That gives quick context and clarity but it’s so overused that Kincaid cautions entrepreneurs to use it wisely: “Don’t use the ‘X for Y’ format verbatim. Spread it out a bit so that you provide a basic description, then compare it to something else, add a little context, maybe poke fun of the fact that you’re relying on this trope – but if you can’t figure out a way to describe yourself in less than a sentence, you could do a lot worse.”)
How you’re better than the competition
Next up, it’s time to explain why users would choose you over your well-established enemies. Kincaid recommends a few bullet points that contrast things like features, focus, and ease of use – ideally supported by facts and specific numbers.
If you’re too aggressive, you risk sounding arrogant (again) or mean, particularly when the journalist cherry-picks your quotes. One common mistake is to claim your startup is “X that doesn’t suck,” X being a competitor’s product. What entrepreneurs often forget, Kincaid writes, is that you have to be 800x better than the competition to overcome the inertia of current users.
“Unless you’re a huge leap forward, you’re probably taking the wrong angle. Better to craft a story that explains not just that you’re better and different, but how you cater to particular groups of people and use-cases. It’s a subtle difference, but it matters.”
In the end, this shouldn’t be a long email. The bullets and other formatting should make it easy to read for the time-strapped, bored tech journalist. (Skip the colors and frilly fonts.)
Kincaid concludes, “You must refine this email. You must make it impossible to misinterpret. You must weave Bolds and Bullets and Indents with the grace of a samurai, trimming away the unnecessary so only the essential remains.”
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