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Pitching your story to journalists and investors is similar to playing a game of cards. Although the outcome does depend on your strategy and experience, it is still largely determined by what’s in your hand. The thing is, to get the most out of the cards received, it is necessary to realize their value.
So, let’s discuss what can become your trump cards and help you achieve your goals — and how to use them properly.
Joker: $10+ funding round
When pitching news to journalists, a large investment amount can become your joker. If a company has raised over $10 million, top media outlets will unlikely remain indifferent. Crunchbase data shows that US Series A funding has declined for five consecutive quarters. The situation with Series B funding is no better — it’s even harder to raise. The chances of startups reaching these stages have never been exceptionally high, but the decline in venture capital makes the task even more difficult.
It also means that journalists are likely to pay attention to your project if you get past this milestone. News about companies raising millions of dollars and guest posts about how they managed to do it in such a volatile economy regularly appear in Techcrunch, Forbes, Venture Beat, Entrepreneur and other media outlets. So, it’s much easier for a startup that has attracted such funding to pitch its success story to editorial boards.
Although the odds of winning the game with a joker increase dramatically, you’ll also need trumps for sustained success. Let’s talk about them now.
Industry reports with exclusive figures
Unique market data may be the trump ace that will help you get into top-tier media outlets. A cybersecurity company specializing in preventing DDoS attacks can collect information on the number and types of such attacks in different regions, as well as the most attack-prone industries, and share the results with journalists. At the very least, this story may be published on specialized cybersecurity news websites. And at most, international publishers with a broader profile and audience, such as Bloomberg and CNBC, will express their interest.
An important tip from my experience is to consider the specifics of a particular media outlet. If you want to pitch your report to a news agency that writes about the UAE, don’t try to focus on global trends in your story, as editors will be primarily interested in the local situation. And vice versa, if you aim to get into the global technology and business media, emphasize the international trends and how the industry is changing.
A well-known investor
With an investment of at least $1 million, this card can be your trump jack, queen or even king. A high-profile investor can attract media attention for two reasons. First, the name of a recognized venture fund or business angel can hook the reader and compel them to read the entire article. Second, it is a quality marker for journalists. If an experienced investor noticed a project, there is a higher chance that the startup makes a worthwhile product. Of course, this is not always the case — the story of Theranos shows otherwise. Still, the project gained worldwide fame even before the scandal.
This trump card works exceptionally well if the investment made is the first of its kind for the fund — or, on the contrary, continues a series of funding rounds in a particular area. For example, in 2022, Techcrunch wrote about a16z investing in BreederDAO, a blockchain-based producer of digital assets for games and virtual worlds. Before this, a16z had supported several other decentralized solutions, which caught journalists’ attention. And in 2023, Reuters mentioned that Sequoia made its first investment into defense technology company Mach Industries.
Having a reputable investor on board also becomes a trump when raising the next round. At the very least, they can help founders with valuable contacts in the industry. One study shows that 20% of venture deals come from referrals by other investors. Plus, the fact that someone experienced has invested in the company means that they have already conducted due diligence, evaluated the market, competitors, product and team —and concluded that the deal is worth the risk, which enhances the reputation of the project in the eyes of venture capitalists.
If you have developed a unique solution and can prove it — congratulations, that’s another trump card. I’m pretty sure that you’ve seen articles with headlines like “This startup is looking to…” more than once in major media outlets. For instance, “This startup is zapping seawater to tackle climate change” in The Verge or “This startup wants to give farmers a closer look at crops-from space” in Wired. Often, subjects of these stories try to tackle pressing issues, such as staff shortages in the healthcare industry, food crisis or global warming, through technology. So, if you offer a truly innovative solution, especially if you are solving a critical social problem, the chance of seeing a feature about your startup in a top media outlet increases dramatically.
However, often, more than this is needed. In our practice, there was a case where a top-tier journal was interested in a healthcare robotics project but agreed to publish a longread about it only when the team got first clients on board. In the case of The Verge story mentioned above, partnership with Boeing became one of the startup’s chips, which helped it to win the pitching game. If you don’t have that, the task can get more complicated.
Plus, in some cases, pitching to investors may take more time and effort. Suppose we are talking about a complex, innovative high-tech product, for example, in biotechnology or alternative energy industries. In that case, many investors may be scared off by the long payback period and the hardships associated with hardware development.
Still, if you are disrupting a niche and can provide supporting documents such as patents, a detailed description of the technology, test results, competitors and market analysis — you’ve added a trump card to your hand.
Successful entrepreneurial experience
If your past projects have succeeded, it will be easier for you to attract your target audience’s attention. And if you have already created a market leader, count that as your trump king or ace, both for the media outlets and investors.
The most straightforward example confirming both theses is Adam Neumann, founder of WeWork, who raised $350 million from a16z for his new real estate startup, Flow. Major media outlets wrote about it because of the huge investment amount, the well-known investor and the fact that it was Neumann, the founder of a coworking giant. His controversial past didn’t scare off a16z. General partner Chris Dixon said of Adam, “He’s one of the few founders — I mean, he’s one of the only people in the world who has built a real estate brand name.”
If the previous project was successful but did not reach such heights as WeWork, such a trump card will unlikely change the situation without others and may not help you get into the top-tier media. But it is indispensable when pitching to investors because, at the early stage, they look at the team first. With an experienced founder in front of them, they will be more interested in considering the project. According to PitchBook, the fundraising process is easier for serial entrepreneurs. Moreover, they get a deal size and preliminary valuation 2-4 times higher than their less experienced colleagues.
News tied to current events
Journalists want their stories to be relevant. Tying your pitch to current events greatly increases your chances of being mentioned. Since no one can constantly generate breakthrough news, it’s a great way to stay in the spotlight. During the pandemic, media outlets featured compilations of projects fighting Covid-19, stories about companies that had to change strategies to stay afloat, and guest posts about how different technologies can help to stop coronavirus from spreading. Of course, you can’t predict how things will turn out and when your expertise and product will be most relevant to journalists. Still, keeping a finger on the pulse and seizing the right moment can become your trump card.
As your company grows, you will acquire more and more trumps. The best part is that they will stay with you for future battles, unlike in a real game of cards. For example, the “Attracted substantial funding from a recognized investor” card will definitely help you in the next round of pitching. The more trumps you have, the stronger the player you are — the easier it is to win even the most challenging games: getting top-tier media coverage and finding new investors through publications.