Tips For Flacks From A Former Hack

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Editor’s note: Nick Gonzalez is a web entrepreneur and former journalist for TechCrunch. Nick has seen the PR business from both sides; first while at TechCrunch and later working with Covered Co., a Silicon Valley PR/Marketing agency that has worked with companies like Dropbox, WhatsApp and Secure.me. Nick currently resides in Dubai, where he co-founded Nervora, which represents MENA region ad sales for the world’s leading publishing brands including Conde Nast, CBSi, Hearst, Gawker Media, and more. He can be found on LinkedIn.

There are two kinds of stories: great ones and the ones that have to be pitched. This article isn’t about great stories.

I have a lot of fond memories from TechCrunch — being there when the YouTube acquisition broke, covering the rise of Y Combinator, and generally speaking to people a recent college grad had no right chatting with, let alone interrogating about their company. However, getting pitched wasn’t one of them.

Pitching the press is a lot like trying to close any other business deal — sans the excitement of any money changing hands. In fact, “selling” a pitch means creating more work for the writer, who has to dig into the details of your pitch and craft a story.

That being said, let me help the inquisitive PR professional or budding startup CEO with some perspective on how to help the stories that need to be pitched make it through the process.

Know the Type of Story

Before you even bother picking up the phone, know what kind of story you’re pitching. While creativity makes a story interesting, most follow a pretty standard template. There are financing stories (Company X raised Y from Z), traction updates (X is growing like a week), product launches (X wants to be the Y of Z), the counterfactual (you’d think X, but really it’s Y), wow numbers (Did you know that X,XXX,XXX do Y?), and many more. Notice the patterns. Be the patterns or break them with a thoughtful opinion piece.

Be genuine

I always preferred talking to founders over their PR handlers. They could not only answer the questions more completely, but also conveyed a real excitement about what they were doing. Also, founders garner a lot more empathy because not so secretly everyone writing at a tech blog wants to be them (Paul Carr, Ben Parr, Eric Eldon, need I go on…). If you’re not a founder, you’ll need to figure out how to get a lot nerdier quickly and network with all those wanna-be founder writers.

Know Your Writer

Each writer has their own perspective and style. Get to know them and it will help guide who to approach and how. Follow up with writers that covered similar companies. Share an intelligent perspective based on their previous stories. In other words, don’t pitch MG on anything other than Apple.

Find Free Cycles

TechCrunch now has a lot of writers. You may want your story to be written by one of them in particular, but you’d be better served by realizing they all reach millions of readers each month. Mostly likely the top writers are busy on pressing stories or pet projects, so you could do yourself a solid by reaching out down the lineup to find someone with some free time, the kind of free time that can be spent vetting your story to write-up themselves or pass on to someone covering your beat.

Writers are Lazy

It may not be so much that writers are lazy, as they are pressed for time and starved for the kind of attention that only writing yet another story about the Facebook acquisition of Instagram can sate. But what I really mean is that writers are the curators of interestingness. News is by definition what is now novel. You make your story infinitely easier to get picked up by doing some of the heavy lifting and placing it in an interesting package. Story vehicles like industry studies and info graphics educate while letting the writer take care of the rest of the exposition.

Exist

At the end of the day, it’s all about trusted relationships. By staying in the industry, your longevity lends some credibility to your competence and ideally more solid connections. If you know a writer well, it’s not a guarantee of a story, but it’s the best shot at getting written up. Also keep in mind that it’s a small industry. So try not to be this guy.