Rules of engagement: attracting media attention

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Dealing with the media can be hard – a little scary sometimes.

Handing over the painstakingly-crafted story of your startup to a stranger is daunting and can seem a little unfair: why should it be someone else who decides whether your journey and business is interesting enough to share with the world?

And on the other side, journalists are often frustrated by pitches that never get to the heart of why your startup is special or even addressed to competitors, and a misunderstanding of how the media works.

So I’m going to share with you some tricks of the trade: tips on what journalists want from you in order to tell a good story, and how to stay in control of your message.

  • Getting attention

Understandably, getting a journalist’s attention can be annoyingly difficult.

You send a patiently crafted email, and wait. You send another and, still, nothing.

The reason is that journalists field a massive number of different calls on their attention each day - email, phone calls, Twitter, Facebook, you name it. If it’s hard to see the immediate value in your missive, it might be lost in the maelstrom of information coming through a newsroom.

A scary swarm of journalists? No, your friends.
The media can be overwhelming, but don't sweat it. (Image Bestwritecommunications.com)

The best way to get someone interested in you and your startup is by pitching them in person.

There are plenty of entrepreneur-oriented events in every MENA country every year and many are frequented by journalists. Relax, say hi, and be ready to have a conversation rather than a give a two minute elevator pitch.

Even if the media is absent from an event, network anyway. Journalists will often receive tips from people who’ve met interesting founders they want to see covered.

If you’ve got news to share right now, email is usually the best way. But bear in mind this also means you have to be available via email and, crucially, checking it regularly.

  • Pitching

You’re probably pretty used to pitching by now but just as you alter your approach for clients versus investors, you’ll also have to tweak your method for the media.

Make sure what you are pitching is newsworthy.

A couple of personnel changes or updating a feature in your app isn’t likely to be interesting to readers – the people journalists are ultimately serving.

The fact that your startup exists might be interesting if you’re the first, biggest or the only one in your field; think Saphon Energy in Tunisia or KarmSolar in Egypt.

But the news that readers want to see is that you’re raising a round, expanding into new markets or launching a great new product, for example.

And don’t get upset if you don’t get coverage. There are many reasons for writing, and not writing, about a particular startup so if at first you don’t succeed, keep trying.

  • Managing the ‘exclusive’

Exclusive news will (almost) always guarantee you better coverage, and there are ways to go about organizing this.

You can either offer a broad exclusive where you break the news first with one publication before releasing it generally. Or you can offer the news exclusively to one publication for a set time period; you might say it will be exclusive to that outlet for three days or a week, and once that period is up it’s fair game for everyone.

This might seem obvious, but don’t offer exclusives on the same story to more than one journalist.

An exclusive means you offer the story to one publication only - there is no such thing as a ‘global’ exclusive and a ‘local’ exclusive on the same story - and promising the breaking news to one outlet and a ‘fuller profile’ to another is also not a good way to make friends.

And as an aside, what if someone else publishes the news first before your No. 1 journalist?

There’s not a lot you can do about that: if the rival reporter was good enough at their job to get the news through other means, they’re entitled to publish because it’s now clearly public knowledge.

But, you must tell your No. 1 journalist the news has been (or will be) reported by someone else, and how it got out. Not only will they appreciate your honesty, but you will cement your reputation as a professional and may even get better coverage from them for your efforts.

If you don’t tell them, it might be a good idea to fast track that expansion out of the region.

  • Other ways to get your name out there

Another interesting way to get your startup’s name out there is to be an expert in your field.

At Wamda we’re often looking for experts who have a good understanding of a sector’s local market and its global context. If we’re writing a profile about your rival, but you’re the industry expert, you’ve just gained some easy free space in an article you might have only been a footnote in before.

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