Bad PR pitches aren’t just ignored, on slow days they’re reprimanded alongside screeds from some of the best and brightest technology journalists. For the past decade, publications have outed PR’s worst offenders and in many cases, created internal PR blacklists.
Some of the common reasons PR pitches fail include lack of personalization/refusal to research the journalist’s beat, pitching a story on a day that’s already pre-scheduled for major industry news (eg. A tech giant’s IPO, product announcement, massive industry conference), or pitching a story that’s already been told by one of your competitors. These are all rookie mistakes. But perhaps the single biggest reason a story doesn’t land is because what your team thinks is awesome, simply isn’t newsworthy.
Why No One Gives a Click
Newsbeat writers are expected to deliver engaging stories and online engagement is measured in cold hard clicks. This means that unique visitors, pages visited, social shares (Twitter, HackerNews, ProductHunt, Reddit etc.), comments, and time on page are all metrics associated with the value of a news story and in turn, the value of a writer. If a pitch is likely to lead to reader engagement, you’re more likely to get coverage. Nevertheless, what many anti-PR screeds fail to mention is that the same formula that J-schools have taught since the days of manual typesetting, are the ones that remain relevant to audiences today.
There are 6 Tenets of Newsworthiness
The best way to get coverage is to incorporate a few of the following tenets of newsworthiness into your email subject line and lead paragraph. If you’re forgoing traditional PR altogether, the below tenets remain relevant to audience engagement for most general-purpose blog editorial, email campaigns, and newsletters.
- Existing Celebrity or Brand: If you’re an unknown entity with no relationship to the journalist, the best way to get noticed is to quote or feature an existing celebrity or recognized brand as one of your announcement partners. If you’ve got Microsoft, Google, Amazon or any of the other Fortune 500 or Cloud 100 companies as customers, you should include their names and quotes in your pitch.
- Timeliness: This type of pitch is tied to something recent including your product launch, an industry event, a global trending event, or something seasonal. In the past, funding announcements contributed to timeliness, but now that they’re so frequent they’re simply not enough. Many journalists already have broad trends, upcoming regulatory impact, or big cloud platform announcements that require commentary. Look at how you fit into what’s already happening.
- Impact/Epic Narrative: The more audience members who are affected by an event or potentially affected by an event, the more newsworthy the story becomes. An epic narrative might be about politics and privacy, new advances in science and medicine, global epidemics and international tragedies, and any other events that affects millions.
- Conflict: Controversy and open clashes are newsworthy and engaging, especially when directed against a popular opinion or well-known entity. Think Apple vs. Facebook, Kubernetes vs. Docker, Ethereum vs. Bitcoin. If you want attention, always punch up and try to be the David to Amazon’s Goliath.
- Uniqueness / Oddity: You need to be pretty darn special to land this coverage. I once received a pitch where the subject line was “Ex-Googlers Launch Social Startup”. To put this into perspective as of this post there are currently 140k+ Alphabet employees. The Verge’s Feature Section, Reuters Oddly Enough, SFGate’s Weird section are all great examples of the types of weird news reporters and audiences find interesting. Keep in mind that what was weird 2 years ago, is now often commonplace.
- Proximity/Regionalization: In the past, audiences tended to engage with news stories situated in close proximity to where they lived or worked. Eg. The click-thru rate on Super Bowl news is an order of magnitude higher in the two cities competing. Nevertheless, with most tech employees working from home, perhaps a better measure of proximity might be in the social networks and online communities we currently inhabit.
The following are examples of how storytellers and content creators incorporate newsworthy tenets. When pitching a journalist or crafting your own content, you should study and understand the patterns in prevalent tech headlines and stories. Here are a couple of examples:
This NY Times article incorporates a number of newsworthy tenets including:
- Conflict: Everyone loves an underdog story. Especially when it’s a volunteer group of NYC volunteers “taking on Verizon and the big incumbent providers”, but also there’s the complex conflict of the haves vs. have nots.
- Impact/Epic Narrative: NYC is the largest city in the US and 46% of households in poverty or 1M+ residents lack a home wifi connection. There are currently only 10 cities in the US with a population of over 1M.
- Timeliness: In the middle of US quarantine, questions about the digital divide intensified as students and at-home workers in poorer neighborhoods faced significant disadvantages.
- Uniqueness: Tech workers are often chastised for gentrifying neighborhoods rather than improving access. There’s a unique angle about civic-mindedness and things happening at the hyper-local level.
This TechCrunch article incorporates a number of newsworthy tenets including:
- Conflict: Nuro is hardly an early-stage startup, but TechCrunch dedicated 4 stories and more than 10k words to the company’s competition with Waymo, Cruise, Tesla, and others.
- Timeliness: At the time of publishing, the US Federal gov’t began its probe into Tesla’s autopilot after a series of collisions with parked cars. Nuro received a safety exception for its R2 model from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
- Celebrity: Nuro’s pilot customers include Domino’s, Chipotle, Kroger, and CVS. Even if audiences haven’t heard of Nuro, there’s a high probability that the company’s success could affect what lands on their doorstep.
This HashiCorp blog post is a great example of how multiple newsworthy tenets can be incorporated in a multi-channel launch:
- Timeliness: The GA of HashiCorp’s Terraform 1.0 was launched at their HashiConf EU conference. In this case, HashiCorp manufactured its own timely event. For smaller startups, it might make more sense to time the news release with a keynote at a larger industry or trade-specific conference. Some examples of these might include SRECon, JAMstack Conf, or DevSecCon.
- Impact/Epic Narrative: Because this release was so long in the making, the company took the chance to highlight momentum including its 100M downloads, 1500 contributors, and 11k pull requests. The community also came through via subsequent distribution channels including this HN post with nearly 700 points and 300+ comments. Meanwhile, the PR team also offered follow-up interviews with publications like The New Stack.
*Note: This article was originally published in 2014 under the title “Getting in TechCrunch: Newsworthy PR Pitches” and was updated as of 2021 to encompass all content creation (not just press pitches) and offer more recent examples.