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This article was published on March 8, 2012

Avoiding the bad pitch: 9 actionable tips from a blogger’s perspective

Avoiding the bad pitch: 9 actionable tips from a blogger’s perspective
Brad McCarty
Story by

Brad McCarty

A music and tech junkie who calls Nashville home, Brad is the Director TNW Academy. You can follow him on Twitter @BradMcCarty. A music and tech junkie who calls Nashville home, Brad is the Director TNW Academy. You can follow him on Twitter @BradMcCarty.

I got called out today, for being “cantankerous” on my Twitter feed, by a Chicago-living CEO by the name of Marcy Capron. Marcy, you see, is the embracing, loving type and it seems that my (perhaps too-frequent?) griping about bad startup PR had gotten the best of her today.

What she did, without the specific action, was question me on something by which I define myself – my love of startups. That made me take pause to figure out what it was that was bugging me so much, and what I could do to perhaps help change the somewhat-annoying status quo.

I’m headed to SXSWi tomorrow, where I’ve purposely scheduled no meetings. Not because I don’t want to see what’s going on, but rather exactly the opposite – I want to see what people are doing and using, rather than being told what they should be doing or using. It’s a perfect time for me to put words into action, so here are some tips from a “cantankerous” blogger:

Why So Serious?

This is the first question that has to be answered, in order for me to explain the reasons behind everything else. I see, on average, about 200 different pitches per day. Not all necessarily for startups, but for everything including startups to “an expert” on a subject who wants to let me know that they’re available on comment on today’s big news story.

Suffice it to say, most of these pitches are terrible. They’re filled with babble and jargon that the sender believes will paint them in a better light, but they’re ineffective at the very best. After the first few each day, I’m really tired of seeing them. After months without a day off, seeing these same bad pitches, I’m annoyed. Sometimes that shows. Mea culpa.

I Love You. No Really

If I hated startups, I wouldn’t do this job. If I moderately disliked them, I would’t do this job. I’m in this job because I truly love your companies and what you’re doing. That is, on the whole. On a micro-scale, yes, there are a few companies that I think are ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do them. Just find your audience.

When you’re pitching, the writer (or editor) is your audience. But you don’t have to put on a show. Just be a person. Normal people don’t talk to their normal friends with terms like “disruptive hyper-local ambient location sharing”. The person on the other end of your email is just that – a person. Talk to them like one.

A few months ago, TNW’s Courtney Boyd Myers wrote a piece that examined the PR side of the relationship. It was eye-opening to me, because many PR folks want the exact same things that we writers do, but we’re often times unable to communicate to one another. It’s a Mars and Venus scenario that we need to try harder to break through.

Another TNW piece, by Paul Sawers, looked at tips for pitching to VCs. Interestingly, many of those tips are exactly the same as what I’d recommend you do when you’re trying to get the attention of the media. I found this excerpt to be especially poignant:

“Great products and companies do 1 of 3 things: Get you laid (Sex), get you paid (Money), get you made (Power). “How does your solution tap into the emotional, powerful, evolutionary needs that we as humans have?”, asks McClure.”

So now that you know what’s bad, let’s talk about how to make it good.

Tips for the Perfect Pitch

Do your homework – If you’re pitching me a SoLoMo photo sharing app, I’m not going to write about it. If you take about 5 minutes to look through my Twitter stream, you’ll know that. But TNW’s Drew Olanoff loves them. A few minutes of diligence will easily set you apart from the crowd.

Talk like a human – To echo something that I said before, skip the buzzwords and jargon. Tell us who you are, what you do and why you do it. Yes, we want to know why. Often times, the story of why has a much better plot than the product itself.

Sexy, money or power? – McClure’s words here were wise. People (including writers) flock to things that resonate at a visceral level. Your hot-button doesn’t have to be sex, money or power, but you’d best find one that’s equally as important.

Keep it short – I have a typical standard for email pitches. If I have to scroll, I’ll come back and read it later when I have time. If you really have that much to tell me, please do a short pitch and then attach a document with the supporting information.

A press release isn’t a pitch – Your release is the supporting documentation of your pitch, not the pitch itself. See the above point.

PR agencies are often a waste of money – For the vast majority of companies that we write about on TNW, PR agencies are a complete waste of their money. Nobody can tell your story like you can, so paying someone to try is a fool’s game until you simply have no time to do it yourself.

If you read this previously, you’ll note that I’ve clarified that I mean agencies. Hiring great in-house PR is often the strongest move you can make.

Embargoes suck – Use them if you need them, but you often don’t need them. Know the difference between need and want. Understand that a big splash all at once is quick to fizzle, while smaller stories, spread over a length of time, drives top-of-mind awareness.

Monday, Wednesday, Friday – Never ever ever ever ever ever ever plan your release for a Tuesday or Thursday. Apple, Google, Microsoft and the other giants tend to love releasing news on those days, and you’ll quickly disappear. It doesn’t happen every Tuesday and Thursday, but it’s wise to simply go for the days that are less likely.

Yes, I got your email – So please don’t tweet me, then call me to verify that I got it. I promise, I got it.

So there you have it — 9 actionable tips for making your pitch stand out. I don’t want to be seen as the cantankerous blogger, so I’m making up my mind right now to change that. Just, do me a favor and lend a hand here, eh? Worried that your pitch might stink? I’m happy to take a minute to work with you on that. Just drop me an email.