Startups, Here’s How to Pitch Me
Hi. My name’s Terena Bell and I write about tech. To be more specific, I want to write about your tech. As a former entrepreneur, I understand how frustrating it can be to pitch your startup to press. Journalists tell you they rarely cover single companies, then run a profile on your competitor. They say to contact them when something interesting happens, then they completely ignore your round.
I think the fact that I used to be a founder makes me more startup friendly. I’m open to hearing what you’re doing today, even if I can’t cover you until tomorrow. With that in mind, here’s what I’m looking for right now, followed by advice on how to best work with me (and freelance reporters in general):
Tech I Currently Write on (As of September 2017):
- Chatbots. I can’t get enough of chatbots right now. I don’t care what your bot does; tell me about it.
- NLP. Looking especially for NLP that addresses diversity, either in hiring or in HR management or in getting VC funding or in some other way I haven’t thought of yet. Maybe this new way doesn’t even look like diversity at first, but somehow addresses class disparity or addresses critical problems faced by disadvantaged populations. Whatever you’re doing that’s NLP related, I want to know. Surprise me.
- Sex tech. I don’t mean you have some new dildo that doubles as a flashlight, etc. I mean you’re actually doing something really cool, experimentative, or that advances the way we look at sex, have sex, want sex, understand sex, and so on.
- Tech that wouldn’t exist were it not for recent or generational culture changes. (Also, Boomer tech.)
- Other: ADHD, agriculture, astronomy, aging, parenting, hunting/fishing, general health, HR, transportation, translation, and travel (no “another cool flight booking app” inquiries, please).
That You? Here’s What to Do:
- Send me a direct message on Twitter. I’m @TerenaBell.
- Contact me directly. If you have a PR agency, that’s great, but I want to talk to YOU.
- Be patient. If I don’t respond immediately, it’s because — like yours — my inbox is full. I will get back to you. No need to confirm if I got it.
- Tell me why readers should care. (Note: I don’t care about your round. I mean, I do, because it shows that you are growing and as someone who’s done this, I’ll share a wholehearted “yea for you.” But end users don’t care about your round, and that’s who I write for.)
- Eliminate buzz words. If you can’t tell me in plain language what you do, I can’t tell readers. Save the bull shit for your pitch deck.
- Link to something greater than yourself. Only rarely can I publish a story where just one company is featured. I need to connect you or your work to a larger trend. So when I ask who your competitors are or what existing solution you replace, don’t say “Nothing! We’re unique!” VCs don’t buy it and I won’t buy it either. I understand you don’t want your competitor to have the same coverage you do. Odds are they won’t. I’m asking because I need to understand the ecosystem you play in for a larger story. A great example of how to do this right is Talla, a startup that develops a chatbot for HR questions. When I asked them about “competitors,” they pointed me to HR hiring chatbots, HR polling chatbots, etc. So far, I’ve interviewed them for three articles in two months. Give me ecosystem.
- Don’t lie to me. Don’t ever lie to me. For example, do not tell me Company X is a client if they are not, even if they’re in your sales funnel and you think they’ll become a client by the time I write. I will fact check. And when Company X says, “Never heard of them,” (1) I’m not going to cover you now or ever, (2) I’m going to write, “They lie!” and/or (3) Company X won’t like it and you’ll lose the deal. Plus, I’ll tell my editor, who is my client. I have a responsibility to let editors know when info you give me isn’t true. That messes up my client relationship, it messes up your reputation at the publication, and it messes up my relationship with you.
- When I reach out, respond quickly. Like coding, journalism can be a game of hurry up and wait. It’s frustrating, I know. But it’s because all reporters — freelance and staff — have to run stories by an editor. Many editors only consider new stories once a week. I’ve had editors take 2 months to greenlight an article before. When they do, I usually have 1–2 weeks to write it. So even if you haven’t heard from me in a while, I must hear back from you ASAP. When I don’t, I miss deadline which makes me look bad to my client. Or worse, I have to tell my client — who I worked hard to pitch — that I can’t write this because you were unreliable.
- Don’t ask when my deadline is. Writers have a process and after connecting with you, that process includes fact-checking, writing, and editor revisions. Plus, we work on more than one story at once. For your purposes, my deadline is not important. When we need to connect so I have time to honestly and accurately portray you is.
- Do expect to be covered more than once. Just as you see more ROI from repeat clients, journalists love repeat sources. In March, I covered school safety app PikMyKid for Next City. The founder got back quickly and was transparent when we spoke, so I’m currently including them articles that are in progress for Washington Post and Fast Company. We want to build relationships with you just like you do with your clients.
- Toward that end, if we have a relationship, send me your news first. Because — like all reporters — I need editor approval, please let me know 2–3 weeks before you tell the rest of the world (if you can). If you say it’s embargoed, my editor won’t publish it early. We just need time for the editor to approve and for me to write.
- Don’t keep asking me when the article will run. For starters, if I knew, I already told you during the interview. If I didn’t, it’s because I don’t know. Writers don’t pick the publication dates for their articles — editors do. Remember, that editor is my client. And as long as he pays on time, I’m not going to annoy the bloody shit out of him asking over and over when an article’s going to run. I’m going to monitor the internet for it, just like you can. As soon as it comes out, I will let you know. I’m actually pretty darn meticulous about it: Ask any founder I’ve interviewed and he’ll tell you that as soon as the article came out, I emailed him a link. Plus, if it’s a print magazine, that takes time. Astronomy Magazine, for example, wants articles filed six months in advance. An article I wrote for Science News for Students last February is slated to publish in December — and they’re online! So chill.
- And finally, remember I’m a journalist, not your PR agent. You may not like what I write. And what I write needs to run when it’s in the publication and our readers’ best interests, not yours. Just last week, a startup asked if Washington Post could push back my deadline on a story because “a couple months from now would be better for us.” No. I don’t work for you. I could care less about what’s better for you. I care about what’s good for the American people, the people I write for who will read my words and hopefully learn something new. Journalists aren’t out to hurt you, we don’t want to expose underbellies or make anyone look bad. We just want to write the truth, and if the truth is bad — or good — so be it. But don’t ask me to push back information the public needs because your marketing team thinks a different issue is “optimal.” I’m a journalist. I’m not PR.
All this being said, THANK YOU! I want to learn about what you’re up to, and look forward to working together. As a quick contact reminder — and so you don’t have to scroll back up — I prefer pitches by Twitter DM @TerenaBell.