How to pitch to tech journalists

Here at VentureBeat we receive a considerable number of bad pitches, both from PR firms and from entrepreneurs themselves. To make life more tolerable for everyone, we have decided to provide some tips on how to ensure that your pitch is not one of them. Let’s start with some typical examples of the bad pitch.

The boring pitch

In most cases nobody cares that your company has a new CFO or has signed a partnership with another company nobody has heard of. At a minimum, you need to tell us why this news is significant. Better still consider more carefully what you decide to publicize and if it’s really of interest to anyone outside your company. An interesting piece of news may get lost in your deluge of press releases.

The rocket scientist pitch

Tech journalists are rarely experts in all areas of technology (or sometimes in any areas). If you send a pitch full of technical language about ultracapacitors, sodium silicide, or hybrid TDM we may simply have no idea what you are talking about. Assume that we know nothing and first explain the basics of the technology and why it’s important in order to set the context for your news.

The never-ending pitch

Entrepreneurs promoting their own companies are particularly prone to this one. Starting a company is a difficult and all-consuming business so it’s not surprising that you want to tell us, in excruciating detail, how wonderful your product is and how much effort went into building it. The problem is if we if we are not immediately hooked after the first sentence, we will already have hit delete.

The buzzword bingo pitch

PRs are more likely than entrepreneurs to indulge in the buzzword bingo pitch. If your pitch contains the words “game-changing”, “disruptive”, “paradigm-shift” or “innovative” you are guilty as charged. Assume that all pitches contain these words so if you want to stand out try to avoid them.

The world of the tech journalist must seem like a mysterious one to the outsider. How to attract the attention of these fickle creatures? Having catalogued the many ways of doing a bad pitch, here are some pointers on how the tech journalist’s mind works and how to pitch accordingly.

Know your journalist(s)

One of the easiest ways for your pitch to get attention is if you know the journalist personally or have dealt with him before. That’s just human nature. We are always more likely to pay attention to pitches from people we know over those we don’t. Mark Hendrickson’s post on how to pitch to a tech blogger makes the excellent suggestion of building up a relationship with your target journalist well before you pitch to him, e.g. by commenting on or linking to his posts.

Assuming that you are cold pitching, do some research. Don’t pitch a story on games to a journalist who doesn’t cover games. Familiarize yourself with your target journalist’s work. “I enjoyed your article on x.. so thought you might be interested in y” is always a good tactic. People enjoy flattery even when they don’t believe it.

Be clear about the priorities of your target publication. Some sites prioritize being first to break a story above all else. Others are more interested in deep technical detail or analysis in addition to raw news.

Individual journalists or publications will often have a preferred contact method. For VentureBeat, mail pitches to tips@venturebeat.com.

Tell us what we want to know, quickly

There are a few basic things we need to know. Make your subject line clear and try to cover these points in a paragraph or two.

  1. Urgency: Why should we write about this topic now?
  2. Significance: Why write about this company versus all the others out there? This doesn’t just mean competitors, but the entire universe of companies we could choose to write about instead.
  3. Numbers: What’s the concrete evidence of business traction?

Be honest

If you have already been covered in another publication, tell us, and then explain why we should still cover you in spite of this. If your news is embargoed for a specific time, tell us. There’s no reason why we should have to drag that information out of you. We will probably also want to know if you are pitching to other publications at the same time. Deception may help get you coverage once but you won’t get it a second time. Build a long-term relationship, not a one night stand.

Make it easy for us

We are lazy. Minimize our workload by supplying a press pack with some nice photos or infographics. Write your press release or report so well that we can just cut and paste parts of it (yes, we do this sometimes). Another good tactic is a  video such as ZenRobotics hilariously off the wall “movie trailer”.

Make your pitch more than an ad

Some of my favourite pitches tell a story that will interest an audience wider than the potential customers of, or investors in, your company. Good examples are Saplo’s text analysis of happiness or AVG’s study on kids and technology. A pitch which is playful and piquant will always attract attention.

Tech journalists are like restaurant critics. We write about magical technology and fascinating people every day. Our palates may become jaded. Surprise and delight us and you are half way there.

Mail your pitches to tips@venturebeat.com (received by all VB writers).