Through the lens of a tech journalist: Tips for getting your stories picked up

A lot of tech companies fail to understand why their press releases, or even their wider marketing efforts, do not resonate with the media. It might be that you’ve introduced a new product or solution into the market. It might be that you’ve acquired another business. You believe in your company, your technology, and you know that it’s exciting and that the world should know about it; but no matter how loud you shout, you are met with the deafening echo of silence.

Become the signal in the noise

Before starting at Resonates, I (Sean McGrath) was a practicing tech journalist for a successful London-based IT publication.

On average, I’d say that I received around 150 emails a day; most of them press releases and pitches for stories. Add to that, the ceaseless phone calls from PRs with ‘new and exciting’ product releases. The simple fact is that the average editor does not have the time to process the number of pitches that are received. Out of this sea of communications, I’d pick up on one or two things per day.

Statistically, the odds of your story getting noticed are not in your favour. Below are some tips to help you cut through the noise.

If it’s not newsworthy, don’t pitch it

This might seem like common sense, but it needs to be stated anyway. There’s an aphorism that they teach aspiring journalists and it’s one worth bearing in mind before pitching to the media. “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news”.

Some companies make the mistake of sending out too many press releases. As a journalist, I had folders setup to redirect these spammers and rarely were the culprits ever looked at.

The editor’s job is to choose stories through the eyes of his or her readers. And so you must decide what to share through the eyes of an editor. Be selective. The fact that you have released v6.5.31 of your software is probably not newsworthy.

Use statistics, avoid sloppy research

Tech journalists love quantitative research – especially if they don’t have to do it themselves. And they are much more likely to carry a story if your company can provide unique insight into their niche. Conducting quantitative research by polling your customers on a particular pain-point or trend can be a great way to help your press releases get picked up by the media.

On the other hand, journalists hate sloppy research, which sadly, the vast majority of it is. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been grabbed by a subject line, only to find out that the research does not hold water. If you’re going to declare that 95% of Brits like the idea of having a smart thermostat, you need to make sure that you have polled a sample size large enough to qualify such a claim. If you’re interested, assuming a 2% margin of error and 95% confidence level, you’d need to poll around 2,400 Brits to have a sample that represented the total population of the country.

You see it quite often in adverts for women’s haircare products. The next time you see an ad declaring that: ‘86% of women over 30 voted our product the best volumising hairspray on the market’, take a look at the very small text at the bottom of the screen and I guarantee you, it will say something along the lines of: ‘Based on 14 responses from WeLoveHairspray.com’.

Include a ‘Notes to the editor’ section at the bottom of your press release, which includes detailed information on any research conducted. Provide links and be prepared to back up your findings with raw data.

Don’t get bogged down in the technology

I love IT. I like to rip the lid off and get to understand how things work. If you work in tech, the chances are you do too. But the vast majority of people in the world do not share this trait. Most decision makers (the folks you are ultimately trying to influence) simply want to know how your company might solve their problem. As a technologist, it’s easy to get bogged down in the mechanics of it all.

That’s not to say you should shy away from the technology – especially if you are targeting well-informed readers. But, as we’ve said before at Resonates, the focus should be on the solution, rather than the product. If you provide fibre optics, most readers don’t really want to know that your vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers use sharper light pulses to achieve x gigabits per second at room temperature. All they want to know is that by purchasing your technology, their download speeds will be significantly faster than they are right now.

Cultivate relationships

Every journalist and editor has his or her favourites; whether it’s a company, an agency or a PR manager. They’re much more likely to pick up stories if they know they can trust the person on the other end of the phone.

It’s not always possible due to geographic restrictions, but try to meet journalists in person; not to pitch a story – just to introduce yourself. You’d be surprised (or perhaps you wouldn’t) at how many journalists will say yes to a free drink. Once you have developed a relationship, it will become infinitely easier to get your stories picked up.

Even if you can’t get to know the media professionals in question, it’s important that you use a personal touch. I used to get plenty of botched auto-generated emails that started “Dear [insert name here]”. They went straight in the trash, even if the story was decent. Take your time to read some of the journalist’s work. When you see something you like, shoot them a quick email or send them a tweet. Everyone likes a compliment, and when it is time to pitch your story, you’ve got a much better chance of cutting through the noise.

Target your publications and be persistent

Research which publications have focused on your niche in the past. Look for the journalists and editors that specialise in your sector and reach out to them directly.

If you believe your news has a strong chance of getting picked up across the board, go ahead and send it out to all the relevant publications. If not, a more targeted approach may be needed.

It can feel like nagging, but there is no harm in following up an email with a phone call. As previously mentioned, there is a good chance that your email might be missed due to the sheer volume of things landing on an editor’s desk. A polite phone call will often prompt an editor to read the press release and they will often be able to give you an answer right there on the phone.

And if they’re grumpy or rude, don’t take it to heart. It’s nothing personal!

Hire a professional that knows your industry

Whether you decide to bring someone in, or you are looking for an agency, it’s important to seek out pros that have experience in your industry. There is nothing more frustrating to a tech editor than having to decipher a press release on your behalf.

Make no mistake - the relationship between PRs and journalists is a complex one. Ultimately though, PR and journalism are two sides of the same coin. They both fuel the other’s success. At times, it can be a frustrating dance, but there is a lot of respect there. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you can manage this delicate ecosystem without the help of a professional. PR professionals work tirelessly to cultivate media relationships. Just having someone from your marketing team draft up a press release and blasting it out to every media outlet in the country is a strategy that will not fare well in the long run.