Startups, Here’s How to Pitch Me (November 2018)

Hi. My name’s Terena Bell and I write about tech and other topics for Washington Post, CIO, Fast Company, The Guardian, Playboy, The Atlantic, Quartz, and others. And now I want to write about your company. In the past, I’ve written a couple of posts on how to pitch me, but my coverage areas have changed a little, so here’s an update.

As a former entrepreneur, I understand how frustrating it can be to connect with press. Journalists say 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 hope the fact that I used to be a founder makes me more startup friendly. I’m open to learning 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 now, followed by advice on how to best work with me (and freelance reporters in general):

What I Write on (As of November 2018):

  • Chatbots, especially ones selling to HR. Actually, HR tech across the board, please.
  • NLP.
  • Sex tech. I’m looking for anything experimental or that advances how we look at sex, have sex, want sex, understand sex, and so on. This includes robotics. Also open to non-tech sex stuff, like people who adapt porn for the blind or other “huh” angles on how society has/approaches sex. Pitches are welcome on everything from toys to academic studies to ideas/activities I’d never even thought of. Sex is about more than getting off — what does your work show us about humanity/society?
  • Translation/interpreting/localization. Like sex, language reveals who we are and how we live. Pitches on machine translation innovations are welcome, but I’m especially interested in stories on how language affects our daily lives (business growth, health, civil rights, why we buy what we do, how we hire/train employees — wherever language is used, what’s the story?). Also seeking translation buyers to profile.
  • Relationships/the science of people. Does your company somehow make us understand each other better?
  • Health/medicine, but limited to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), telemedicine, hospital tech, health in the workplace, and anything that helps patients better understand prescriptions.
  • Broader AI & machine learning. More interested in business implementation than research, thanks.
  • Cybersecurity. Here, I’m looking for broader trend stories I can quote you as an expert in, as opposed to news about specific product releases.
  • Other: Agriculture/agribusiness, astronomy/NASA, books (adult and YA fiction only, please), hunting/fishing, legal tech, topics for 50+ set, and transportation (trains, cars, motorcycles, & public transit — no e-scooters).

That You? Here’s What to Do:

  • DM me on Twitter @TerenaBell. Note DMs are supposed to be SHORT, not War and Peace. Concisely distill what you’re doing into 2–3 sentences tops. If you can’t, you’re not ready yet for press. (Note this is for people I have not connected with previously. If we already know each other, you are of course welcome to email.)
  • Contact me directly. If you have a PR agency, that’s great, but I want to talk to YOU. (Note for PR’s: Do NOT email me, “My client can talk about [exceptionally vague topic copy-pasted from your post here]. Would you like to talk to my client?” That answer is no. Give me a reason why we should connect.)
  • Be patient. If I don’t respond immediately, it’s because — like yours — my inbox is likely full. I will get back if there’s a win here. No need to ask if I got it. (Note for PR’s: For the love of Pete, do NOT resend your email as a “response,” asking if I’m “still” interested because you think you can trick me into thinking there’s an ongoing conversation when there’s not.)
  • Tell me why non-startup-world readers should care. (Note: They don’t care about your round. Yes, it shows you’re growing and I know how hard they are to raise, so congrats. But the guy across from you on the subway doesn’t care and neither will my editor.)
  • 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. And for heaven’s sake, don’t use the word AI unless it’s actually AI. And yes, I know the difference between AI and machine learning and just plain crap. You should too.
  • Show how your company is about more than itself. Only rarely can I publish a story that features just one company. I must connect your work to a larger trend. So when I ask who your competitors are or what current solution you replace, don’t say “Nothing! We’re unique!” VCs don’t buy it and I don’t either. I get you don’t want your competitor to have the same press you do. But I’m asking because I need to understand how you play in a larger ecosystem so I can write a larger story.
  • Don’t link to prior coverage on the exact same story you’re pitching. News has “new” in it. I have no desire to rewrite someone else’s story.
  • Don’t lie. Do not tell me Company X is a client if they aren’t, even if you think they’ll become a client by the time I write. And PLEASE don’t tell me you’ve launched when you haven’t even hired your first coder. I will fact check. And I will write, “They lie!” So don’t lie.
  • Respond quickly. Like coding, journalism is hurry up and wait. It’s frustrating, I know. But all reporters — freelance and staff — have to run stories by an editor. Most editors only consider new stories once a week. I’ve had editors take 4 months to greenlight an article then give me less than 1 week to write it. So I must hear back from you ASAP. When I don’t, I miss deadline or — worse for you — the article gets cancelled. I’ll never write on you again and I’ll have to tell my editor you were non-responsive.
  • Do expect to be covered more than once. Just as you see more ROI from repeat clients, journalists love repeat sources. We want to build a relationship with you like you do with your clients.
  • If I ask to talk about an area where you really aren’t an expert, decline the interview. Nothing’s more frustrating than starting an interview just to learn a source doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It wastes my time and yours. It’s a fixed guarantee I will never cover you — or if I do, my article will bust you as not knowing what you’re talking about. Not because I’m vengeful, but because it’s the truth. Better to admit you’re *not* the right person now so I can come back to you for areas where you actually are knowledgeable. (A note for women: Stereotypes claim women turn down interviews when they really are experts because they’re more modest. I don’t buy that stereotype, but if this is you, you don’t have to be the world’s foremost authority to talk to press. You just have to not be full of shit.)
  • Keep me updated. One startup I covered extensively changed its name and didn’t tell me. I covered them again — with the old name — and had to issue a correction. It made me look like an idiot. Don’t make someone who’s giving you free exposure to your target client base look like an idiot. And don’t pass up the opportunity to win press on that update, either.
  • Send me news BEFORE you make it public. All reporters need editor approval, so please let me know 2–3 weeks before you tell the rest of the world. I do honor embargoes and my editor and I need the time to approve, write, and fact check.
  • Do not use the fact that I am a woman who covers tech as an excuse to ask I interview some random woman at your company about vague, womanly topics. Real news/insights only, please.
  • If I do cover you, pleeeeeeease don’t keep asking when the article will run. I don’t know. Editors change publication dates all the time for multiple reasons. Plus, outside of breaking news, journalism moves much more slowly than tech. For example, a science editor I worked with once waited nine months to publish what I wrote for her. A sex piece I filed one year ago today is still waiting for the editor to publish. This is extreme, granted, but the point is, stop filling up my bloody inbox. Set up a Google Alert on yourself and you’ll probably know it’s online before I do.

All that said, THANK YOU! I want to learn about your work. As a quick contact reminder so you don’t have to scroll back up, pitch me by Twitter DM @TerenaBell.