As a PR person, product developer, CEO or whatever, you're probably more interested in getting noticed by the media than developing a relationship with a particular writer.
That's one way to go about it.
Then there's that old-fashioned "building a relationship with a real person not a robot" idea. You know, treating people like people and taking the time to get to know them. Oh right, yeah, forgot about that.
Writers, like artists, are sensitive to ideas and people. But not every writer will get you or your product - and in the tech world as in any world, each writer has their own specialization. If the match is right, I guarantee they will want to get to know you and your ideas.
Let me relate a true story: One time I was so enchanted by someone who I once wrote about that I traveled 10 hours (on a Megabus, no less) to visit this person's hometown (Kansas City, Missouri, a town I would not normally have any interest in) to learn about her and the art community there. This was back when I covered visual art in Chicago and parts of the Midwest. This person not only became a friend, she also eventually became a creative collaborator and someone who I still reference quite often. I ended up returning to Kansas City a few more times to write about other artists I met through her.
Of course, these types of connections don't happen everyday - but they do happen, and they are special. Meanwhile, there are a few things that you can do before just blindly spamming inboxes and acting like you're TOTALLY BESTIES with someone whose byline you barely know. So come along, let's learn together. You are the reason I'm writing, after all. :)
Before you zero in on the writer of your choice, here are a few questions to consider:
- Do you like the way the writer writes?
- Does the writer actually cover stories the way you think they should be covered?
- Would the writer care about your product, based on what they have covered in the past, what they are currently covering and what they're tweeting about?
- Is your idea or product gender-specific? If so, is the writer the right gender to cover your story?
- Are you prepared to answer questions if you get pummeled? Can you stand up for yourself and your product? Or will you hide behind your computer screen and just refer to boring press release language?
If you feel prepared to do all of these things and more, then let's get into the 10 ways to win over a writer. Many of these tips are about not doing anything at all.
- Don't Send Press Releases. Most writers hate press releases because they don't tell a story - they just summarize the qualities of a product. The quotes are sterile and boring, and always emphasize the glossiness of the product. If you can't explain the product in three awesome sentences, it's too complicated. Keep it simple. Make everyones' lives easier.
- Do Send Blog Posts. I know you really want to send a press release. Do yourself a favor and hire someone who can distill marketing jargon into fun, playful language for a blog post. Give it some personality. Try even putting your own personality into the blog post. If you are an asshole, own it. If you are a really prissy girl, own it. I'd rather read a blog post from The Valley Girl or some super nerdy tech dude who has a passion for plug-ins than some cold, lifeless marketing type.
- Find the Writer on Twitter. On a good day, I only check Twitter a few times. On a bad day, I'll be on Twitter hunting around for stories, ideas and weird people. Find me on Twitter (@aliciaeler) and tell me why your idea is awesome. Do not send me a link to a press release. Send me a fast, easy blog post. Tell me about this app you've made that is going to probably take over the world and get me invited to Katy Perry's house. Tell me why I can't live without this app. And do it all in 140 words or less. Do not DM me, though. I will bite your head off.
- Show That You Actually Follow the Writer's Work. Try reading at least 10 of the writer's stories, and then go a step further than just "I like your so-and-so piece on cats with dandruff problems." Tell me why you liked the story. What did it make you feel? Did it remind you of an idea you had the other day? Did it make you cry? Did it make you want to throw your cat in the blender? Seriously, throw me a bone, or some catnip, or both. My only goal as a writer is to make you think a little bit more deeply about something. If I can't do that, than I have failed and you should tell me in the comments below.
- Live in the Writer's World. A good writer is able to cultivate a niche, a culture all their own. You read their work enough and you feel like you're inside their head. If you can't get inside their head, or it feels like a weird, uncomfortable space that you feel like you shouldn't be in or even near, then trust your instincts and do not pitch that writer.
- Make Your Videos 2 Minutes or Less. Everyone is trying to make an awesome video about their product. If you make one, include a one-paragraph intro and then boom! Drop in that video! If you can't easily transition from text to video, the writer may not be interested in even clicking to watch. So, make it easy. Make it fun. And make sure the writer knows that there is no pressure to write anything. Do not end your emails with annoying nudges like "I hope you know that I really want RWW coverage! Can you tell?" Yes, I can tell, and it makes me feel sad. At the end of the day, often times it's those nice, succinct pitches that result in some friendly back and forth but no coverage that keep me interested and curious to learn more later. Don't expect first prize right off the bat. Sometimes it's better not to win.
- Don't Act Like We Already Know Each Other. OMG do not send emails saying "hey, just confirming that we're on for that 2:00 p.m. appointment" that I never agreed to or even knew about. If it is an honest mistake, fine. But I know how you do, k? That is a lame sales tactic and makes me never want to know you or your product, or to speak to you at all.
- Don't Tell Me About Your Day or Your Sick Kid, Puppy or Kitty. I truly love babies, children, cats and dogs. But I do not need to read your excuses about why you are emailing me now rather than later because you had to take your kid to the vet, or your dog to school. I honestly do not want to know anything about your personal life unless it is relevant to the story you're pitching me, or you are a truly amazing and interesting creative person whose life involves inventing new species of dogs and cats. If you do not fit into any of those categories, please just stick to the ideas you're pitching.
- Think of This Like Dating. If you live in the same city, why not court the writer a bit? Just like dating, you don't just show up in someone's life and say "Hey, I am for sure the hottest person here and it is obvious that we are meant to be. You want summa this?" Um, no I do not. Why not try being friendly, open and honest? Show me, don't tell me or flash me. I will listen. If you choose to inquire about me, be genuine. I know this is a business relationship and all, but seriously - it is still a relationship, and should be a respectful one at that. Ask me what I am working on. Then ask me to lunch. I might take you up on it.
- Don't Take it Personally If I Don't Respond. We are all busy people with busy lives. If I do not respond, don't be sad. But don't follow-up more than three times. Sometimes third time's the charm. But fourth, fifth, six time is just plain pathetic.
Ten Biggest PR Blunders of 2011 by David Strom, Marshall Kirkpatrick's Five Wrong Ways to Pitch RWW and One Great Way and PR for Developers 101: How to Bootstrap Project Coverage by Joe Brockmeier.
Do you have any tips for courting writers? Share them in the comments below. Thanks!