Pitching your startup to the media by Nick Freer

John Peebles, CEO and Andrew Williams, CTO of Administrate

John Peebles, CEO and Andrew Williams, CTO of Administrate

It was two days since we had spoken to a reporter from the world's leading tech news outlet, over a week since we had pitched the story but as I scanned the site on the morning school drop there was still no sign of it.  My heart sunk and so, just several minutes later, I was surprised to see Administrate CEO, John Peebles, standing in the school playground with a big smile on his face on a cold, dreich December morning.

Surprised on two levels, firstly because John doesn't have any kids and secondly because I knew he was on tenterhooks like me waiting for the damn story to run.  Getting your startup covered by TechCrunch is, as one of our best known tech founders said to me once, like being sprinkled with gold dust and it vastly improves the chances of venture capitalists getting their chequebooks out for the next fundraising round.

"Dude, we're in", said John in his laconic, American twang.  He showed me his mobile phone with the story up on the news site as if to prove it was really true.  "Oh, thank God", I think I said before asking him why he was standing by a queue of primary three children because it just didn't compute.  "Patrick's had to sort out a visa situation in Glasgow so he asked me to drop off his kids", said John, referring to Administrate's Chief Commercial Officer, Patrick Flanagan.  

The Administrate story was a good one and had caught the reporter's eye because there was an angle he liked - more interesting than the funding round news was the fact that John and Patrick had introduced a 4-day working week and improved productivity.  The opportunity to then be interviewed gave John the chance to talk about his time growing up in China in the Nineties and how the Chinese had switched from a 6-day working week to 5 days but productivity hadn't dropped. 

TechCrunch's European editor was in Edinburgh earlier this month, his trip following similar research visits this summer by Forbes and tech.EU, Europe's leading tech news site.  As someone embedded in the Scottish tech scene and with a certain level of understanding when it comes to the media, I'm fairly confident in saying this marks a sea change in terms of how our ecosystem is being viewed from the outside looking in.  

I took the opportunity to ask all three - TechCrunch, Forbes and tech.EU - when they were in town about what kind of stories are floating their boats these days and the dos and don'ts when it comes to making a pitch as a startup.

It might sound like stating the obvious but pitches frequently fall short because they simply aren't newsworthy enough.  Startups think because they've raised some money, launched or improved a product or hired some hotshot executive that this equates to newsworthiness.  The survey says... no.  

A pitch stands a better chance if you can combine these elements but you are still likely to need something else, some "extra sauce" as one of the tech editors put it.  Like Administrate's 4-day week, Chris McCann's snap40 securing Scotland's largest ever angel investment round, Two Big Ears' virtual reality software being used in a Bjork video or pureLiFi's technology being tested by Apple.  If you can't find the angle then, as The Smiths song goes, you just haven't earned it yet baby.   

Twitter may have its issues on a corporate level but it is still a key working tool for tech and business reporters like it is for most journalists.  If you're a startup CEO, you should be following key reporters at key publications and news outlets.  

There will be limited chances to meet these reporters in the flesh - but when the opportunity does arise, maybe at a tech conference for example, you've got to grab it - so following them on Twitter, liking select tweets and responding with insights from time to time will pay dividends and help build your profile.  They might just think of contacting you next time they're writing a story.  

It's worth putting the time in when it comes to the media.  It might be your best route in to those hard to reach VCs and their fat chequebooks.