Incentivibe founder Adeel V. recently asked me, ”What types of content can you pitch to journalists and the media that they love to cover?”
Many people probably have the same question about public relations, so I figured I could turn the answer into a blog post. Adeel, I’ll give a short answer and a long answer:
Your chances of building a durable relationship with a journalist improve if you can offer exclusive, high-quality data about your industry. Data shines a unique light on how groups of people live.
Trends emerge not when one person starts doing something, but when hundreds or thousands of people engage in the same behavior. This can only be observed from a bird’s-eye view. That’s why data is so necessary and why journalists love it.
As an expert on your industry you’re in a unique position to tell the story of how humanity is changing and evolving based on how your product affects the lives of the people who use it.
Any journalist who gets to be the first person to tell a story about new recorded human behaviors is going to have a hard time saying no.
But it’s not a guarantee.
And now the longer answer…
There is no such thing as startup kryptonite.
Never has an early stage startup had such a brilliant story idea, a hot tip, or an infographic so mesmerizing a journalist absolutely had to publish it. Sorry.
Skepticism is in our nature. More to the point, we journalists have to be cynical (some might say jaded) to protect the public from bad actors. Some people will do anything to get their name in the press. What harm is fudging a little data to someone without scruples? Data is us.
Most tech writers also have a lot of autonomy to cover the stories they care about, and develop a beat. Editors support their writers, but don’t tell them what to do or whom to cover.
It makes sense. When a reporter cares about something deeply, and he knows it well, he will write better stories with more context, better sources and better access to key players and decision-makers. This means that journalists already have a pretty good sense of what the story is before you pitch it to them. But not always.
The power of exclusive data
This might seem like a problem, but it’s actually an opportunity. Because individual journalists care so deeply about a particular topic, you can pique their interest if you have unique, proprietary and exclusive data about something relating to their beat.
My VentureBeat colleague Dean Takahashi knows more about the Microsoft X-Box than almost any living human. He even wrote a book about it. If you had amassed unique insight into the world of X-Box and how it’s used, Dean would probably open your email.
What is an exclusive?
Exclusive is a word that gets thrown around too much, and you should use it carefully. Exclusive means that no other reporter has your data. Everyone else is excluded. Get it?
If you promise a reporter an exclusive, make sure it really is. Don’t tell everyone you pitch that they’ve got the exclusive, just so that spur someone to write you up. Word gets around, and you don’t want to burn yourself.
Why exclusives work
Journalists are very colegial with one another, but like any other industry, we’re also intensely competitive. For instance, AllThingsD reporters Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka first reported the news that Yahoo acquired Tumblr. The scoop, or the exclusive makes us look good in front of our peers, and that’s something we all want, right? If you can make a journalist look good in front of her boss and co-workers, you have less of a hill to climb.
The problem with infographics and charts
Datasets are different than infographics or charts. A prudent reporter will examine the dataset you produce and draw his or her own conclusions. An infographic doesn’t allow you this close inspection. An infographic is only as good as the data that goes in, and no pretty graphics or timeline will change that.
The other problem with data is that a lot of reporters don’t know what to make of it. We journalists got into the ink- slinging business because math scares us. GMAT? No thank you!
Infogr.am to the rescue
Fortunately there are tools out there like Infogr.am, which allow anyone to make a compelling data visualization. Just for fun I created a quickie to demonstrate the proportion of journalists who enjoy dealing with numbers. It’s not scientific, but it only took a couple minutes.
With data in hand, anyone who cares, but isn’t a master of Adobe Illustrator can still make a chart that tells a story and looks decent.
Journalists know a lot, but we don’t know everything. You can help a journalist by giving him or her the ability to tell a story that has never been told. Proprietary data about your industry is a powerful tool in your arsenal. And always remember that making someone else look can take you places.
So I hope you find this helpful. I tend to prattle on sometimes, and it’s late, but I truly believe data in the right hands has the power to change the world.
Shouldn’t it be yours?
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