The Publicity Club of New York hosted a luncheon, “Technology, Startups & Entrepreneurs,” Tuesday, Dec. 11. The event was hosted by PCNY’s Peter Himler and included five panelists:
- Alyson Shontell is a SAI (Silicon Alley Insiders) editor at Business Insider and covers startups.
- Samantha Murphy is a journalist at Mashable and covers everything from tech and social media to entertainment.
- Devindra Hardawar is a national editor at VentureBeat and covers tech.
- Manoush Zomorodi is the host of WNYC’s “New Tech City.”
- Ki Mai Heusser is a staff writer at GigaOM.
Shontell begins her day by writing a story she has in mind, and then turns to her personal inbox -- full of several hundred emails -- to see if any pitches grab her attention. If she sees an interesting subject, but doesn’t cover it, she will forward it to one of her colleagues.
Shontell used to focus on age when writing her startup pieces, but now age doesn’t jump out at her. She explains that what was hot a year ago is not hot now.
She also explained that Twitter can be validation for writing a story. It can highlight an important conversation, if the Twitter community is chiming in and discussing the topic. However, when it comes to pitching a story to her, people she has worked with in the past or trusts will be more likely to interest her. A personal recommendation also goes a long way.
In addition, Shontell suggests using a polite and friendly tone in your first email to her and then following up with a pitch, rather than sending one email saying, “I like your articles. Here is my pitch..”
Murphy believes “there is no such thing as a perfect pitch.” If you want to stand out among the hundreds of emails sent to her inbox, then you have to know what she covers. A PR person that she recognizes and that provided her with good stories in the past will be more likely to receive a reply.
Her recommendation is “not to abuse communication." There have been instances where she gave out her cellphone number and received a pitch in a text message. Moral of the story: Don’t pitch via text message. Also, reading and responding to an email will be quicker.
Murphy shared that the setup of the Mashable website is helpful for PR people to know what is trending and is of interest to Mashable’s readers. The website also makes it easy to navigate what’s going on in the startup world.
Hardawar convinced his founder to move from San Francisco to New York because he believed “it is the place to be” for tech news. But this still doesn’t mean that every pitch sent to him is a good one.
The subject and the first line of an emailed pitch needs to be relevant. Hardawar isn’t able to spend a lot of time on each email, so it is essential that his attention is grabbed right from the start.
Apart from receiving story ideas from PR people, it also sometimes helps to receive ideas from venture capitalists. They are able to provide other information and/or data that might be interesting to him.
Even though Hardawar is the contact for New York startups, he may sometimes miss a pitch in his personal inbox. Therefore, he suggests also emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, so another writer can notice it and reply if he misses a pitch. Other publications should also have a similar "tips" inbox for pitches.
“If it affects the commute, then our listeners care,” said Zomorodi, when asked what kind of pitches interest her.
She wants the stories that affect the lives of New Yorkers, especially since the show is in the early morning, when listeners are driving in a car and going to work.
Zomorodi, a Brooklyn resident, said she also appreciates pitches related to the Brooklyn area. If you want her to cover a story, take the time to listen to her radio show and know what is discussed. Other useful information to know when getting your story on “New Tech City” is WNYC’s business and economics editor, Charlie Herman, forwards interesting pitches to Zomorodi.
Ki Mae Heussner
Heussner sometimes covers a story outside the New York area -- if it focuses on startups. She recommends looking at the big picture and seeing how it fits into her coverage, e.g., why a larger audience would be interested in the story. She likes a good story behind a startup.
If you want to write a guest post for GigaOM, it needs to be insightful, not promotional. Also, the information in the post should be credible and accurate. You can find more information here: http://bit.ly/VCx4Zb
Here are some other topics discussed during the panel:
- It is important to be open about other publications you are pitching. You do not necessarily have to divulge the publications; you can say it is an “influential publication…” However, some of the panelists reiterated that not being open with the journalist and hiding information when pitching can “burn you.”
- Regarding how tech journalists feel about being pitched a story that was published in other publications, Murphy said there is that thought of why other publications were pitched first. Murphy explained that if it is an important topic, and another publication already wrote about it, it will not stop Mashable from writing about it too. Hardawar and Heussner also added, that it helps if there is a different angle to the story that the journalist can write about or expand on.
- Hardawar said demo days are difficult to attend, because they can take up the entire day. But if he has worked with the contact before, then he will more likely attend demo day. Shontell echoed this statement by saying she needs to be able to justify spending the entire day at the event to her boss.
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