How to tell if your startup deserves press coverage

A guide to understanding what reporters consider newsworthy

Tech reporters’ inboxes are filled with garbage pitches from misguided founders who assume that the smallest milestone warrants a write-up.

Founders dream of seeing their company’s name in headlines without knowing how that might help or hurt them. But with the proper intentions, strategy and timing, they can score press that makes their imagined future look inevitable.

Step one: accept the fact that you don’t get to decide what’s newsworthy.

Inside your company, you may have total control, but working with reporters requires abdicating that iron grip. They can’t be intimidated or paid off, but you can collaborate with them — take their success into account alongside your own, recognize their duty to serve the public, and you’ll learn to pitch like a pro.

Here we’ll discuss different reasons why you might want press, why maybe you shouldn’t, and how to understand what reporters consider newsworthy. You’ll learn about the three big benefits of coverage, what’s changed about readership over the past decade, the most common mistake in startup PR and how to combine your milestones into a compelling story.

In part two of this ExtraCrunch guide, I’ll explore how to pick specific publications and reporters to work with. Future posts will examine how to hire help with PR, formulate a pitch, deliver it to reporters, prepare for interviews and conduct an announcement. If you have more questions or ideas for ExtraCrunch posts, feel free to reach out to me via Twitter or elsewhere.

Why should you believe me? I’m editor-at-large for TechCrunch, where I’ve written 4,000 articles about early-stage startups and tech giants. For a decade, I’ve reviewed startup pitches via email and Twitter, at demo days for accelerators like Y Combinator and on stage as a judge of startup competitions. From warm introductions to cold calls, I’ve seen what gets reporters’ attention, why some pitches are immediately rejected and how stories become enduring narratives supporting companies as they grow.

Let’s start with why you should want startup press in the first place.

Three realistic goals for press coverage

What’s your objective? It won’t matter to the reporters or the readers, and it won’t get you written about. But you need goals to work towards even if you never speak them aloud in an interview.

First, you should know what you’re giving up. To run an effective PR process, you’ll be distracted from building product and running your business. An agency can help, but founders and key employees must still put in time to meet with the PR team to define and refine positioning and messaging, offer product updates and set priorities.

Talking to the public will expose your secrets to potential competitors who could use the info to copy what’s working, learn from your mistakes and exploit the markets and opportunities you’re not. It can also bring in new users or customers before you’re ready, or before there’s enough adoption around them to make your product work. If press exposes you to a scattered cadre of early adopters around the world who have no one to use your app with, they might never give you a second chance, so you have to grow thoughtfully.

There are three big benefits you can get from startup press, but perhaps not in the ranking you’d assume.