As a founder, do you really think you can influence a startup writer by offering cash or freebies?
I would say tech startup journalists are the luckiest of the lot. While a reporter covering other beats such as politics and crime need to work relentlessly — almost 24/7 — a startup journalist’s life is easier, as the reporter does not need to spend more than eight to nine hours a day, five days a week, at work.
Startup journalists are better paid as well. They get opportunities to go abroad more often than their peers and receive freebies at press events organised by tech giants (Frankly speaking, I don’t go to press meets much and hence don’t get freebies, even though I pray to God the organisers will give me fancy high tech toys whenever I get a chance to go to such events).
But, while us journalists float around the tech ecosystem, the companies, people and events they cover can often feel random, like throwing a dart at a board while blindfolded with your back facing it.
So, how can a startup founder entice a startup journalist, and make sure the dart hits their company?
The first note is, those freebies I so love. Yeah, they do not work. As a founder, do you really think you can influence a startup writer by offering cash or freebies? Actually, in some instances it may turn the writer off as it comes off as needy or manipulative.
At least I can vouch for myself, I am not easily influenced and any journalist worth his or her salt will not easily fall for such chicanery.
It is a fact that ‘paid for headline’ journalism does exist. I have heard that in India, political journalists are offered huge sums of money to cover up dubious deals by governments/politicians/industrialists, or mediating a talk between under-world dons and film stars/politicians.
But the startup world is different. There are no dons to offer money, nor are there politicians to threaten a reporter with dire consequences. There are only startups and VCs, and there’s no room for dubious deals. In fact, startups have no time for petty politics as they are too busy building their business or scaling products.
That said, it would be a blatant lie if anyone says startup world is totally free from paid journalism. A few weeks ago, I got a call from a PR girl in Taiwan, who offered me US$100 for writing about her startup client. I humbly rejected the offer saying it is against journalistic ethics. I told her I was more than happy to write about the startup if there was something exciting, without taking the money.
At my previous job, a startup founder struggling to survive offered me money to write about them, but I declined that as well (As far as I know, this startup is still struggling).
So what are the best ways to entice a startup scribe? What does a tech journalist expect when he meets a startup and its founder?
Presentation is the key. You have to be crisp, sharp and straight-to-the-point when you talk. Don’t lie and don’t try to inflate figures — traction, revenue, etc. You must understand that a lie cannot survive for long. Be honest.
Like any other journalist, a startup reporter is also chasing exclusives and controversies. Any journalist would be thrilled at an opportunity to write about an imminent multi-million dollar investment deal from a prominent VC. Or getting a scoop about a large corporate buy-out, or a mass exodus of employees. That would make any tech writer’s day.
Now, depending on the employer this person is working for, the angle and the peg can change.
My previous employer always emphasised the business aspect of startups. They highlight traction, deals and other figures in the article titles.
Whereas e27 is more of a resource platform. So, if we publish a story about Li Ka-Shing giving ten shortcuts to make money, that story will rake in millions of page views (after all, page traffic is what fuels an online media).
A startup journalist also likes a good controversy, as they always sell like hot cakes.
We have great examples all around us — the Rahul Yadav (former CEO of Housing) episode and an Ola driver’s on-the-go masturbation with a female passenger on-board. Yes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
But one thing startup founders miss is that negative publicity is also a kind of publicity (negative publicity is a big bet, it can go either way). As the saying goes, ‘there is no such thing as bad press’.
In the case of Rahul Yadav (who wrote a disparaging e-mail to Sequoia Capital MD Shailendra Singh over poaching of his employees), some people stood by him and appreciated Yadav’s courage, while other flayed him for being arrogant. Whatever anyone’s opinion of Yadav, the man is now a pseudo-celebrity, and any venture he starts will immediately garner attention from VCs.
We also look for ‘unconventional’ startup journeys. We like to narrate a story of a founder and experiences while setting up a venture, his/her encounters with VCs and clients etc.
Recently, a startup founder told me that ‘“Culture is useless. You’re building a company to make money, not a family”. We ran his startup profile with this headline and it fetched quite a number of impressions.
Last but not the least, a startup with a terrific product always draws our attention. I have profiled a number of startups, some of which have extremely innovative products. There are hundreds of such startups everywhere in the world. They are struggling to get the press. So to discover such startup and write about them is something which excites a startup journalist.
I know the ‘fintech revolution’ is upon us, it is no longer newsworthy and writing about it is why this gig is a ‘job’ and not a ‘hobby’. This why a company like SALt from the Philippines gets so much attention — nobody else is doing anything remotely similar. The same cannot be said about the latest remittance app.
By the way, tech journalists are bombarded with an assortment of pitches and other emails daily, so our sincerest apologies in advance if yours slip through the cracks. That said, incessantly hounding us with the same pitches — especially when we have politely expressed our disinterest in covering it — will either elicit a passive-aggressive response in the form of a thinly-veiled sarcastic email – or simply, the silent treatment.
To conclude, getting good press doesn’t ensure success. After all, success depends on many factors, such as product, market, traction and customers. And be honest, not just with the journalist, but also with your customers and investors etc. It is your patience, perseverance and honesty that matters the most.
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