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How to catch a journalist’s attention

How to catch a journalist’s attention

Amy Lewin Senior Reporter at Sifted Dec 5, 2019 9:30 min

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Hello, I am Amy Lewin. I’m a journalist at Sifted which is a new media platform backed by the Financial Times. At Sifted, I write about startups and tech across the whole of Europe. Although, I have a particular interest in what I call “the people side of companies”. 

And I really enjoy writing about companies that have a really wide impact on society. Especially in areas like health-tech, in mobility, anything to do with diversity in tech as well, I really care about.

Today, I am talking about how to catch a journalist’s attention. 

So, journalists get a whole lot of emails. I get dozens if not hundreds of pictures and press releases every single day. And it’s rare that I even bother opening them. Unless I know or trust the person who’s sending them to me or, unless they have a really, really, great subject line which I’ll talk about a little bit later on.

If you’re trying to get media attention, I realize that’s not what you want to hear. But don’t worry because I have some tips about how to capture a journalist’s eye.

Number one, you have to pick your journalist. There are lots of journalists out there and we all are interested in different things. You need to figure out which journalists are going to be most interested in you and your company. Do they write about companies like yours? Or, for example, if you’re a small startup, do they actually only write about enormous companies? Because if they only write about enormous companies then don’t bother trying to get in touch with them.

Next, think about if they write about your sector. For example, if you work in fashion there’s no point pitching to a reporter who only ever writes about finance. Unless you’re building an exciting new payment system in which case they’ll probably think you’re the most exciting thing, pitch, that I’ve ever seen.

Do they write about companies and people in a way that you would like to be written about? And you’ve got to think, obviously, if they’re the kind of journalist who often writes quite mean things or digs really deep into certain things and you don’t want that to happen to your company, then don’t try and make friends with them. 

Think about what kind of stories they write. So, do they often seem to be doing new stories? Are they doing big long interviews with people? Are they doing big company profiles or are they writing about emerging trends? And then see if the kind of stories that you want to share fits into one of those formats. 

Finally, also think about whether or not they write for a publication or work for a media outlet that your target customers, investors or potential hires actually read. Because if they don’t, then it might not be worth your time trying to build a relationship.

Next thing to do is to follow them. Not physically because that would be weird and possibly illegal. But, you can go to events that they speak at, try and say hello afterwards. But, please do not pitch them your company there and then. It’s very, very awkward when I’ve given a talk and then people come up to me afterwards and try and tell me about why their app is the best thing ever when I’m desperate for the loo or need to dash off to another meeting.

Sign up to their newsletters, follow them on social media, a bit of flattery never goes a miss. So, tell journalists that, you know, you think that their latest article was really brilliant or recommend them on Twitter. Then they’ll start noticing that you exist. You could also go a step further and join certain communities that they are a part of. So if you’re involved in different Slack channels, or kind of women in tech communities, and they’re active in there then that’s another way to kind of start a conversation with them. 

Next thing to do is to get out there yourself. So, you can also make it easier for journalists to find you rather than you hunting them down. The first thing to do is to speak at events. I remember people who I’ve heard speak on panels, who I think we’re great. So, one of the female founders who I have the best relationship with, I first heard her speaking about diversity on a panel. I then got in touch with her, she got back to me and the rest is history. She’s written pieces for me, she’s introduced me to useful people. And I’ve written about her company and introduced her to useful people. So that’s how to build a great relationship. 

You can also – to bring yourself to the media’s attention – write things. So write things, tweet things, set yourself up as a thought leader. It could be on Medium, it could be on LinkedIn, it could be on your company’s blog, it could be by – again – talking at events. 

But show that there are certain things that you really care about and you’re an expert on. So that might be that you really care about, making consumer goods more sustainable; Or for startups to have better parental policies, or for Europe to have better option schemes. But start talking about that. And then when a journalist is looking for someone to speak to on those issues, your name will probably come up.

The next thing to do is to make friends with journalists. So, treat that relationship as you would treat any relationship. If you give to them, you might expect to get back. So, be helpful. If a journalist, for example, is tweeting, you know: does anyone know of a company that does “X”? And you do. Get back to them, they’ll start noticing you. Send them tips as well. If you’ve already met them in person let them know about other interesting companies you’ve met, trends you’re noticing, people you think they should get in touch with. Be helpful as possible. And if you want to take it a step further, try to get their phone number, try to get them on WhatsApp. Try to kind of create a natural relationship where you just start conversations with someone .

If you can’t actually meet them in person though, then you’ll probably need to resort to the dreaded pitch email. As I said earlier, they don’t often work but they can work. 

The first thing, if you’re emailing a journalist out of the blue, is to write a really sexy subject line. So, put the most important bits in the first 5 words. So they would appear in their inbox, in the title. You could look at some news headlines for tips here.

So phrases like: “Inside story” or “A 100 million pound round” or “Why VCs are bastards” would probably catch my attention. If you put in your first five words things like: “Interview suggestion” or “Article idea”, that’s a complete waste of space. So make sure your subject lines are really juicy and interesting. Then in the main body of the email, make sure that you explain what your company does in really simple language. So language that your grandma will be able to understand. Don’t talk in tech jargon, because you run the risk of the journalist not understanding either.

Include useful information like when your company was founded, how much money you’ve raised, how big your team is. So that the journalist has to do less hard work there. Make sure the email is short though. Be funny, show some personality. Include links and assets. So include a link to your website, include any pictures of you and your team. Include your number. Basically you want to make in that email, once you’ve got the journalist’s attention, you then want to make it as easy as possible for them to find out the information they need to decide whether they want to get in touch or not. 

And then finally, be available. Some journalists work to really tight deadlines. So you need to be able to speak to them that day straight away if they’re interested.

I’m very excited to be joining the 50inTech community. If you want any advice on speaking to the media, storytelling, how to catch a journalist’s attention or even how to, kind of, network and connect with people more broadly in the world of startups, then find me on the platform. 

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