- Different media reach out to different audiences, so target your pitches
- Don’t presume on relationships – journalists are not your friends
STARTUPS and public relations (PR) agencies should do their homework on the media outlets they want to approach, so as to better understand their audience and pitch their stories.
With a plethora of publications out there, both online and in traditional media, it’s important to know what their consumers are like so you can also determine which ones are suitable for the story you want to tell, said the panellists at the DNA Disrupt discussion on media relations on June 19.
“As a startup, you may have a great product, a great service or a great solution, but you must think of what the story is going to be at the end of the day,” said moderator Freda Liu (pic), a former PR practitioner herself with a US technology multinational, and currently a highly regarded presenter/producer with BFM Radio.
“That will help the media tell the story too,” she added in the panel discussion which had as its theme ‘Rules of Engagement: Media Relations 101.’
Yahoo! Malaysia country editor Marc Lourdes noted that it was important to angle your pitch properly. “The biggest mistake you could ever do, and I’m talking about big, blue-chip companies here, is to lead with your brand message,” he said.
“The public does not care about your brand message; and the media certainly does not care either,” he added. “Instead, as you would if you were telling a story to a friend, lead off with the most interesting aspect of your story.”
Lourdes noted that with many mainstream publications, a human interest angle is almost always an easy sell.
Digital News Asia (DNA) editor Gabey Goh concurred, noting that the tremendous amount of coverage SECQME Sdn Bhd got for its Watch Over Me app because of the personal story of its co-founder Chin Xin-Ci.
Chin developed the mobile security app aimed at women after she herself had been a victim of an abduction attempt.
Goh also recalled that when she worked in a mainstream publication, she wanted to do a story on the organ donor issue. “My editor told me it’s not a story because the issue was not new, but he would consider it if I could put a human face on it – for an example, if a 12-year-old girl was going to die unless she got a new organ.”
“The human interest angle is always an easy sell,” said Goh. “Think about your origin story; your hook.”
For technology startups, this may be harder to do when it comes to getting general news coverage, although they may find better traction with specialists publications such as TechCrunch, Tech in Asia and of course DNA, the panellists noted.
When a member of the audience, whose startup operates an electronic marketplace dedicated to green technology that matches providers with builders amongst other things, ‘pitched’ his idea at Yahoo! Malaysia at the Disrupt discussion, Lourdes (pic) conceded that it would be a hard sell.
“It’s interesting, but only from an industry angle,” he said. “Our readers would not be very interested, which is why it’s important to know your audience.”
But he noted that the startup could get better traction with an environmental angle, and how much CO2 emissions could be cut by using green buildings.
The company could also position itself as a thought leader on environmental issues, which would be a softer approach to get noticed. However, if you’re going for the thought leadership angle, make sure you have some actual thoughts to contribute, said DNA senior editor Edwin Yapp.
“When I did some work as an editorial consultant, there were many times that I was called in to meet with clients to discuss thought leadership angles, only to find out after 45 minutes or so, that they didn’t have any thought leadership at all,” he said.
The panellists also noted that while engaging with the media, some individuals may become friends over time.
“But never presume or depend on personal relationships,” said Yapp (pic). “Content trumps everything else – and as my old boss in my previous career before I went into journalism used to say, ‘Work is work’.”
Lourdes concurred. “None of this is personal – we don’t really care about you or your company; it’s about the story we can tell our readers.”
“You have to keep in mind that we are not your friends – we would go after a negative story with just as much enthusiasm as we would a positive story,” added Goh.
The panellists also discussed some of the more nitty-gritty aspects of approaching the media, like the simple matter of getting the names of reporters and editors right.
“I get a lot of pitches via email – it’s today’s equivalent of a cold call,” said Lourdes. “There was one from a big company which addressed me as ‘Marc Lourdes Country.’
“Even worse, the email kept referring to another publication, not Yahoo! Malaysia. They just didn’t bother to get this right.
“Do your homework, understand the media you’re approaching and if possible, try and personalise your email cold calls according to the publication,” he added.
BFM’s Liu said she had been the victim of misspellings many times. “I’m sorry, but we’re human too, so it’s easy for us to think that if you can’t get the little things right, how are you going to get the big things right?”
Goh (pic) said that since the startup’s journey may be a long one if it is successful, try and plan out the whole media strategy or cycle.
“You have to think about what kind of publicity you want, at what stage of your startup’s lifecycle,” she said.
For example, if you’re just starting up and at the seed stage, you may want to seek out specialist publications that cover the startup scene, so that you can get on the radar of possible investors, she explained.
Once you’ve got some funding, then you’re probably in the user-acquisition stage, which means you may want to approach publications that reach out to your target demographics – say fashion or women’s magazines if you’re a fashion e-commerce site.
“We (media outlets) are very much defined by the audience we reach out to,” she added.
One quick way of determining a publication’s audience is to look at the advertisements it has, noted Lourdes.
“If it’s all Cartier watches and BMWs, then you know it has a very affluent readership; if it’s Tesco, Giant and Mydin, then it speaks to the masses,” he said.
Yapp noted however that the best way to gauge a publication’s audience is to actually check out its content.
It’s not all fun and games, and not all journalists can be hooked by a great story, the panellists admitted. There have been many PR practitioners or even companies themselves who say they’ve been rebuffed by publications with lines such as “Sorry, you’re not an advertiser.”
“It’s best not to have anything to do with such unethical publications or journalists,” said Lourdes.
However, noting that some of these publications may have the audience the startup needs to reach out to, Goh said that media outlets do not have a hive mind, and that there are multiple personalities in there.
“If you strike out with one person, try another desk or journalist,” she added.
Finally, Goh recounted that at one event she attended while in a previous job with a mainstream newspaper, she was approached by an entrepreneur who, when he found out what publication she wrote for, proceeded to denigrate the paper.
“He went on about how it was slanted in its coverage and how he stopped buying the paper years ago, then asked me for my card and said he was interested in getting coverage,” she said. “Here’s a hint: Whatever your personal beliefs, don’t diss the publication you’re trying to reach out to.”
All pictures courtesy of MediaSaya, which also provided live-streaming of the event.
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