A Journalist's Take on What Makes a Good Pitch


On April 10, WeWork 600 California Street in San Francisco hosted Pitch Globally's Kaustav Choudhari and a guest speaker lineup including: Chase Roberts of Chase Roberts Creative Services, Victoria Sanchez de Alba of De Alba Communications as well as former CNET reporter Terry Collins. Oxygen has a long history in public relations, but it's a rare opportunity to get to hear about PR from the other end of the email thread, from a journalist's perspective.

The attending audience was almost entirely comprised of startup founders looking to learn the ways of PR from professionals in the field and how to write a good pitch to land that perfect story. In a past job, I was a small-time reporter and transitioned into communications, I’ve learned the ins and outs from both sides of a news desk. Well, I could go on and on about how to do PR "the right way" or "the best way", but the right "way" changes with every startup depending on: are you a first-time founder, or a serial entrepreneur; someone looking to make a name for themselves then get acquired, or to go public and be the next-generation of business. Terry Collins’ perspective, from behind the reporting desk at a major media outlet, is unique and what I’d like to share with you.

Collins, a former CNET reporter covering technology, business and the intersection of both, took the mic last night and spoke on his experience. He told the audience that he read every pitch, good or bad, because he didn’t want to risk missing out on that one special startup. As a PR person it was interesting to hear that he read every pitch, but only responding to the viable story-worthy ones was typical journalist behavior. When he transitioned to the Q&A portion of his segment, my ears perked up and what follows is a breakdown of the biggest questions he got as well as his answers and a little bit of Oxygen insight thrown in for good measure.

“What do I include in a pitch?”

"Be willing to share a lot of yourself," Collins said. "The more you share of yourself, the more compelling you will be." He told the startup founder that you have to share not only the business proposition and story angle, but also the personal story; why did they start the company, is it their first company, etc. I agree with Collins, it's important to humanize a startup, their founder and their product or service. You can't just send a purely factual pitch and expect a great response. Sure, you need facts in there, but a pitch has to tell a story, be relatable and compel the journalist to write the story.

“When just starting out, how do you find that reporter that has the right kind of connection with their readers?”

A second founder asked how a business goes about pinpointing the perfect journalist that also has a genuine connection with their readership. Collins and I both agree on the fact that it's tough, where it sometimes takes a lot of research to find the best journalist to pitch. Collins' response was to "personalize it, make your pitch tight and use good words that catch a journalist's attention." It's just icing on the cake if the journalist is interested enough to publish a story, but also likes the product on a personal level.

“What's the difference in journalists' reaction to freelancers, agencies and in-house PR when it comes to pitches?”

When one founder asked a compare-and-contrast question regarding the three primary types of PR people, and specifically how a reporter would treat a pitch from them, Collins' feedback was fully expected: "It depends." If a reporter has a positive rapport with a specific PR person or agency, or has gotten good pitches from them in the past, they can probably rely on that trend with this new pitch. Regarding differences in how each type of PR entity pitches, it again depends; a freelancer or in-house person may have a style of pitch that they use as a signature, while an agency like Oxygen might use a similar structure but customize it completely to tell a story not just pitch an idea.

The audience was enthralled while hearing about pitching and PR through the eyes of a reporter. The event's emcee Mr. Choudhari had a great quote for the startup founders: "The difference between entrepreneurs and normal people is that entrepreneurs can get people to write about them in a way that makes investors love them." At Oxygen, we work with established brands and new companies alike, ones looking to drum up attention for a second-generation or get funding to manufacture their first-batch of products through Kickstarter. His comment is relevant to many startup founders especially in San Francisco, with the massive venture capital culture and applicability to crowdfunding.

When pitching to a journalist looking to get publicity for your crowdfunding campaign, you have to remember that the pitch isn't only for the journalist. It's also a guiding mark for how they write about your campaign, your company, your product and especially you as a founder or team. That in turn influences how their audience perceives all those things and whether or not they ultimately choose to support your campaign.

To wrap things up, one of Collins' final comments was, "if you have the budget, work with someone in public relations, work with someone in PR; they'll be able to help you channel your points.". We may be an agency that's been in this business for almost 20 years, but good PR are always worth having. Good PR gets startups one step closer to landing that perfect story and taking the media by storm, and that's every startup's dream, isn't it?