May 01, 2020
Tags: Energy, Agriculture, Waste, Mobility, Tech Entrepreneurship, Impact Investing,
How African tech startups can pitch their story during Covid-19
This article was originally published on Ventureburn.
Attracting media attention to a pivotal part of your technology startup’s journey can be challenging even during normal times. This is especially challenging for technical founders who may be great at discussing their product details among engineers but do not know where to begin when trying to convince a journalist they have a story worth sharing. But needless to say, these are not normal times. Journalists are working double-time, industries are rapidly evolving, and no one knows what the future holds. Founders need to understand the best way to pitch journalists during this pandemic because drawing the right attention, at the right time, can play an instrumental part in the success of your company.
“Journalists are being bombarded with press releases and pitches about companies’ ‘unique’ response to Covid-19.”
I recently spoke with four top media companies covering African tech startup news and asked for advice on behalf of startups trying to get media attention during Covid-19.
Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned:
1. Covid-washing can hurt your credibility
Journalists are being bombarded with press releases and pitches about companies’ “unique” response to Covid-19. Stephen Timm, editor at Ventureburn referred to it as “Covid-washing”– something that everyone I spoke to echoed their frustration with in one way or another.
The reality is, every company is responding and adapting to Covid-19 because you have to in order to survive.
This doesn’t make you unique and journalists can tell right away if you’re trying to use the pandemic as your cornerstone just to get media attention. This is a poor choice in strategy and you may end up hurting your credibility with a journalist.
Tip: Make sure your story is moving the conversation about Covid forward. Ask yourself, how will the African and global tech audience significantly benefit from the news I’m sharing?
2. Journalists can still smell your BS
Tech journalists are working overtime right now from the prisons of their own homes. Exhausted and isolated, their investigative journalistic instincts are very much still intact.
Timm commented that tech venture news is often “full of hot air”.
The Ventureburn editor shared that “you have to take an investigative approach… because founders either don’t know how to share their story well or are trying to inflate the importance of their story. So I always pick up the phone and dig deeper.”
Not all journalists are as generous with their time and willing to pick up the phone. If they are, make sure you can back up your claims and are not wasting you’re or the journalist’s time. The good ones will keep digging until they find the truth.
3. Make it easy for journalists to do due diligence
Jake Bright, a TechCrunch journalist who covers African tech news, shared that he can usually tell from the subject line, or a two to three second email scan, if there is a story worth sharing or not.
His advice for founders whose pitches don’t end up in the trash folder? Make it as easy as possible for journalists to verify your credibility.
Here are the tips he shared:
- Make sure your company’s Crunchbase profile is up to date. This is often the first place journalists look to verify your legitimacy. They’re looking for funding history and previous content written about you.
- Promote relationships with your venture capital investors. Consider adding ‘venture-backed’ to your company bio or on your website if you’re an early stage company.
- Build relationships with other credible players in the space who are able to make referrals.
4. Journalists are humans too
They have hopes, dreams… and bosses they have to report to.
Adewale Yusuf, CEO of TechPoint.Africa, advice for startups is to “talk to journalists like they’re humans… and always keep in mind that journalists are looking for the best story to pitch to their editorial team”.
Yusuf also wanted founders to realise, “journalists are always, always looking for stories. Good stories.”
This means that if a journalist turned your story down in the past, it’s because they weren’t confident enough to bring it in front of their editorial team. This rejection shouldn’t keep you from pitching an even better story in the future.
5. Bring the field to them
Journalists are being impacted by lack of opportunities for informal conversations with industry stakeholders. They usually rely on, in part, informal conversations during conferences, coffees, and happy hours to stay abreast of industry trends.
Kay Ugwuede, journalist at TechCabal, shared that while “virtual interviews have been surprisingly effective… journalists are still definitely feeling more removed from what’s really going on.”
Now is a great time for startups to try and build a relationship with a journalist by sharing insider insight into their industry.
Try sending an email saying “I saw you’ve been writing about X, my company Y has boots on the ground in location Z. Let me know if you’re interested in having a brief call to discuss what we’ve been learning.” Even if it doesn’t turn into a story, you’ve now made a new genuine connection with a journalist in your field.
6. Do your homework
You’re busy, journalists are busy, we’re all busy. But journalists are even busier now due to the pandemic.
Spend 10-15 minutes of time researching a journalist before you pitch them. You can easily tell from previous articles what journalists are interested in covering. Also, take a quick look at their social media channels to learn how they prefer to be contacted.
I was surprised to learn that editorial teams actually read and respond to their general inboxes. For example: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tip: Email is never a bad idea because it allows journalists to easily forward your pitch to other members of their team who may be more interested in your story.
Understanding the fundamentals of pitching to journalists remains a critical part of the process of getting your story into mainstream African tech news.
So, nail the fundamentals but also understand how the field of journalism is adapting to Covid-19. Use this knowledge to sharpen your company narrative and how it relates to the pandemic, establish credibility, and build relationships.
Belle Raab is a platform manager at the impact investing firm Factor[e] Ventures. She coordinates the support provided to their technology-enabled portfolio companies post-investment.