Lots of startups see big, national outlets like The Wall Street Journal and TechCrunch as their top targets. With tens of millions of readers and names that even your parents have heard of, it’s easy to see why.
But startups shouldn’t overlook industry outlets – those smaller, more niche magazines, websites, podcasts, and blogs – that cover a specific industry (and are read primarily by people who work in that industry). I’m thinking Progressive Grocer (CPG), Inman News (real estate) or Insurance Journal (insurance, duh). These are colloquially known as “the trades.”
Getting your startup mentioned in these publications can have a significant impact. Sure, they have less total reach than a major top-tier paper, but they may 1) reach more of your target audience and 2) allow you to be more sophisticated with what you have to share.
So how do you do it?
Here are a few tips.
1. Give Readers Something They Can Use
Unlike the New York Times and other national papers, trade outlets aren’t in the business of publishing hand-wringingly philosophical think pieces of (perhaps) questionable utility to our day-to-day lives. Trades publish stuff their readers can use in their jobs. Tips and tricks for success. How to cut costs. Etc.
Since your company already works in the industry that your target trade magazine covers, coming up with suitable material shouldn’t be hard. Just think about what you do every day and how other companies in your industry might be able to learn from that experience.
For example, if you’re an insurtech startup with high employee retention rates, consider pitching a story about how to screen job candidates for the traits that make them a fit for a fast-paced startup in a highly regulated industry. Be candid about what has worked and what has not. Use real-world examples to illustrate your points.
Reporters and editors at industry publications want content that’s non-promotional, so a how-to piece is a natural fit. And a good way to educate people is by giving them tips from what has worked (and what hasn’t) from your own experience.
2. Pitch Trend Stories, Not Stories About Your Product or Service
As we noted in our recent post “What Startups Should Know About The Newsroom,” most reporters don’t care about individual products or one-off announcements. But they do care about the trends that make that product relevant today.
Stephen Miller, an editor of the Society for Human Resource Management’s website, one of the premier news outlets in the HR world, told Propllr that his publication rarely does new product or services pieces. “If a pitch is about a new product or service, it should show how that product or service is part of a trend that’s meaningful to our readers,” he said.
The takeaway here is: think beyond your interests. How does your newest product or feature (that thing you really want to get covered in the press) reflect a wider industry trend?
Take the following scenario as an example.
We work with a product photography startup that specializes in 360-degree imagery for ecommerce. We had luck pitching the story “Why Amazon’s Push into 360-Degree Photography Is Good News for Toy Sellers” to the retail trade publication Toybook.
The pitch mentioned Amazon’s recent platform change that lets retailers include “spinning” photos and mentioned that we could put the reporter in touch with a great source to offer insight about how this would likely affect toy sellers (Toybook’s audience).
In short: we succeeded in getting the reporter interested in covering our client because we were pitching insight into a recent industry development, not a self-promotional announcement.
3. Personalize Your Pitch
Reporters get tons of PR pitches in their inboxes every day. So it’s important to make sure yours stands out.
Because lots of PR agencies firehose each pitch to dozens (sometimes hundreds) of reporters at a time, anything you can do to tailor your email to the specific reporter you’re targeting will go a long way.
We asked Mark Hollmer, an editor at Carrier Management, an outlet that publishes property casualty insurance news, what irks him about pitches from companies in the insurance space. His answer? “[When they] make a pitch without knowing anything about the publication to which they are pitching.”
Not only do you need to know what the publication writes about, you also need to try to discern who its readers are.
Judy Mottl, a New York-based editor at the retail trade outlet Retail Customer Experience, told us, for example: “Retail Customer Experience is a niche B2B pub focused purely on the retail customer experience – technologies and strategies retailers are using to enhance [and] improve the consumer’s experience with the brand in the store and online, and now on the mobile device. So a pitch about VC investment or some broad retail industry topic isn’t what we’re looking for. The best pitch is one that can tell a retail story – so if there is a retail customer involved in the pitch that’s perfect.” (Emphasis ours.)
To summarize: Personalize your email as much as possible. Specifically…
- Make sure to visit the site and read what’s on the homepage.
- Read the “About Us” section, which describes the pub’s mission and its audience (almost every trade outlet has one).
- Read a handful of articles written by the reporter or editor you’re pitching.
- Visit that person’s LinkedIn or Twitter page to see how they describe their beat.
None of this is fast. It takes time. It takes energy. It takes persistence. But if you don’t do it, reporters are likely to think they merely got hit by a firehose, rather than thoughtful, person-to-person contact, and the result will likely be that your email is ignored (or condemned to the Spam filter).
4. Use Plain English
You might think it’s okay to use industry terminology when pitching an industry news outlet. After all, you’re all in the know. Surely they’ll understand the unique language you and your colleagues use when talking business, right?
Wrong. Even at a trade publication, a reporter’s job is to explain industry news in a relatable, easy-to-understand way.
When we asked Mark Hollmer, the Carrier Management editor I mentioned above, for the elements of a good pitch, he stressed a few things: “Make it clean, using layman's terms. Avoid cliched words or phrases such as ‘solution’ and ‘industry vertical’ that don't really say anything about the product you are pitching. Picture your pitch as a conversation you are having at a dinner party, where not everyone knows the jargon.”
In other words, throw out the jargon. Distill the complex subject matter into something that’s readable and human. Explain it the way you would to your 87-year old uncle at Thanksgiving.
5. Have Something Specific to Share
Lots of startups (and PR people hired by those startups) ask reporters who cover their industry for “an introductory interview.” The goal if the introductory interview is for the reporter to get to know the company and its leaders, even if there’s not a specific story to tell yet (hence the word “introductory”).
But although some reporters find this useful, the trade reporters we talked to generally said they don’t like it unless you’re coming to the table with something substantive or new to impart.
“I generally don’t respond to the many, many ‘would you like to interview so and so on this topic’ pitches,” said the Society of Human Resource Management’s Miller. “Sometimes an interview is fantastic, but often the interviewee hasn’t prepared and doesn’t have anything of particular interest to share, and so everyone’s time is wasted.”
Takeaway: For industry reporters like Miller, it’s helpful to have a specific story or angle in mind before making your approach.
One good way to do this is to spend some time reading the most prominent outlets that cover your industry. Make a list of the four to five biggest issues they write about, and brainstorm what unique take or philosophy you and your company may have on these issues.
Chances are, if you’re willing to take a stand on an important issue – particularly if it’s a take that’s surprising or that goes against conventional wisdom – journalists’ ears will perk up.
6. Upload Your Press Release
Sounds easy, and – good news – it is!
Lots of trade outlets have press release upload forms that let you upload a company announcement to be considered by the site’s editors for publication.
To find these forms, do a site-specific search with keywords like “submit press release” or “submit news.” For example, if you want to publish a company press release to Retail Dive, a sleek outlet covering the retail industry, just Google “submit news site:RetailDive.com” or “submit press release site:RetailDive.com.” The first result that appears will be Retail Dive’s handy submission form.
Now, not all your announcements will be accepted for publication. But if it’s a professionally written release with a piece of substantive news, and you submit it in a timely manner (i.e., soon after it was announced), you’ve got a good shot.
Not sure to write such a release? We’ve got you covered.
You’re Almost There!
Throughout all of this, keep in mind that it can be a slow process. It may take three months or longer from the time of initial outreach to published article. There can be tons of follow-ups involved.
But if you’re willing to put in the time, if you’re willing to stick with it, if you’re willing to correspond with reporters in a way that’s humble and unpretentious, you will get your startup featured in industry publications.
And when you do, it will be so worth the effort.