How to Pitch Your Startup Using the Four Gates

I stumbled across the four gates not too long ago, an old Sufi saying that tells us to speak only if the words have passed through four checkpoints. While the four gates are used as a guide for everyday interactions, I think there’s room for their application when pitching your company. Whether you’re a PR pro or a founder of a startup, pitching a journalist can be nerve-racking, especially since it can put you in the line of fire. I’m talking about journalists not hesitating to publicly call out pitches. So, it’s natural to want to avoid being the focus of a negative post from a writer you respect.

The implementation of the four gates can help ensure your pitches are well received. In 2015, we implemented this line of thought for media outreach. The results were over 2,100+ press mentions in a year. See if you can find use for your pitching initiatives:

Gate #1 — Is your pitch true? — Are you telling the journalist the truth, or is it fluff? If you have some sensational things and a lot of noise in the pitch, tone it down a bit, and try to stick to hard facts and numbers.

Gate #2 — Do you only have what’s necessary? — How long is your pitch? If you’re pushing 4 or 5 paragraphs, shorten it. Similarly, if you find an opportunity to pitch in person, be sure to have your 30-second elevator pitch down. A journalist gets hundreds of pitches a day, and if they read all 4–5 paragraphs of every pitch they receive, they wouldn’t have time to write. I’ve found sticking to one to two paragraphs is the best way to grab their attention. Also, think about who you’re pitching. Only reach out to people who are a solid audience for what you have to offer. A fashion writer doesn’t care about your new enterprise platform.

Gate #3 — Is the timing right? — Aside from the obvious (do not call a journalist at 5 am), make sure to know the type of news you’re pitching (soft or hard), and the journalists you’re reaching out to. Are you timing your new product launch the same day as Apple’s big event? If so, chances are the audience of tech writers you’re trying to reach are going to be very busy. Timing is one of the most crucial components to a pitch. If you’re reading a recent article and think, “Hey, our company would have been a great fit for this piece,” and reach out to the writer with the hope that they write a similar piece about your company, chances are they’re not going to write the same article twice. Instead, think about how the journalist could expand on the original piece or further the conversation, and try offering additional insight. Don’t risk botching a potential relationship with a journalist because your timing is off!

Gate #4 — Is your pitch kind? — Keep the message sweet, simple and avoid going off on tangents, which can be distracting. They ruin the flow of your note and take more time to get through. The other day my cat decided to go for a walk and found a tree to climb. See what I mean? Keep your message to the point. The reporter will appreciate it. Also, attacking and/or offending the writer in your pitch are not going to get you anywhere. In case there’s any confusion, “Hey, that article was wrong, you suck, etc.” is not a constructive critique nor thought provoking commentary.

As with everything the more you practice, the better you get, so streamline your thoughts and always think before you speak… and pitch.

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