💬 In this issue:

  • Shooting your shot: A guide to Email pitching your startup.
  • Generating media coverage: Leveraging storytelling mediums.
  • Hacking journalist networks: Why curiosity matters.
I’m writing this month’s newsletter from the sidelines of the Africa Tech Summit in Nairobi, where startup founders and investors have had two days to showcase their products, network, and speak on the future of innovation. As far as networking goes, it’s been a great event, and I’ve met more people in the last two days than I probably met in the last year. 
While quite a few founders I spoke to were hoping to meet investors, the commonest question I got was how startups can get the kind of favourable press coverage that can help with storytelling, help build credibility and put them in front of audiences. So this month, I’ll take you through some of the basics of getting quality media coverage for your startup for free from all of the publications you love.  - Olumuyiwa (Writer & Contributor, African Pre-seed Podcast).  

📰 Media coverage at the right price or…no price at all

Storytelling, credibility, and getting the right eyeballs at the right time are important questions at a time when startup founders keep hearing how important it is to manage their resources.

One Y Combinator video even argues that paying huge sums to PR agencies is one of the most wasteful ways early-stage startups spend money. 

But the counterargument from early-stage startup founders is that organic coverage is almost impossible to get. If you’ve also followed some of the discourse on the social media platform X, early-stage founders even go as far as insisting that some of their local publications don’t want to cover them for free. 

If you’re a super early-stage startup, the odds are that it’s going to be difficult to get your story in Bloomberg or the Financial Times. One of the best ways to start is by targeting some of the publications that are read by your target market. Now that you’ve identified those publications, the obvious next step is to reach out to them, and this typically means sending an email. 

For most people, this is either an introductory email cold pitching their company or a press release highlighting a product or a feature. 

🐈 An exercise in stimulating curiosity: why does it matter? 

Email pitches about your early-stage startup most people have probably never heard about, can be very tricky. While you may think your startup is the next best thing since sliced bread, people don’t know that yet, and the journalist certainly doesn’t know it either. 

So while it’s tempting to send a long missive about your company and your product, you’re likely to succeed if you narrow down your focus to just one thing. What’s the central idea you want to share, and why does it matter to the publication and its readers?

When you land on that idea, share it in the simplest and most interesting way. You should capture the curiosity of the journalist from the first line. 

Here’s an excerpt from a Financial Times article that would certainly make for an interesting email from a company telling you about their product:

“It was quite the Christmas present. In December, the Dutch technology company ASML started shipping 250 crates to Oregon to install a €350mn machine for the US chipmaker Intel. The Twinscan Exe: 5000, to give the machine its full name, is probably the most complex piece of equipment ever built. Weighing as much as two Airbus A320 jets, it took a decade to develop and will require 250 engineers to make it operational next year.”

I think most journalists would be fascinated by an email that starts out telling them about the process of shipping the most complex piece of equipment ever built. 

What’s also important to note here is that you have to ditch cliches, mostly because they’re tired and meaningless. So try not to say you’re “revolutionising” some sector or “democratising” access to some other thing. There are a million more interesting ways to explain the problem your company solves.

🧑🏾‍🍳 Pouring passion (the secret ingredient) into your media pitch

Passion is one of the things that makes startup founders so fascinating. Bump into a founder, and you’re likely to get your ear talked off about how they perceive a problem and why they believe they’re in the best place to solve that problem. Curiously, most of this passion never makes it to email pitches.

What most publications get are formulaic press releases that sound robotic. You will be a lot more successful if your email sounds like you and if your passion comes through. Remember, the way you think about the problem you’re solving is probably the best way to stand out. Also, your understanding of the industry and your thesis about where it is can also catch attention, so definitely use those. 

If you’re looking to earn media coverage for a new product feature, you’re always better served telling and showing why the audience should know about that product and how it improves their lives.

Email subjects like: “X and y finance launch X send, a financial gateway to the world” may easily get passed over because there are hundreds of emails like this, and they all sort of blend in. 

Also email subjects like this: “Blackbird Startup Announces Enhancements to QR Code Protections” will also likely get passed up. That adage of “You have one chance to make a first impression” has never been more true than today’s content-rich (and at times overwhelming) media environment.

As much as you can, the so what of your communication should be contained in your email title. If you’re launching a new feature, why should the journalist or their audience care? You may have communicated the “what” but don’t forget the “so what”.

📩 Human relationships beat out emails and jargon

It’s also important to say that beyond press releases, it’s often a good idea to offer to speak to the journalist you’re pitching virtually or in person. Passion translates pretty well over those types of conversations than email, and it’s easier to win the journalist over and get them to also care about your company and product.

So, don’t only look out for investors at your next conference; build personal relationships with journalists and get a sense of what they’re curious about at the moment. You never know if it’ll dovetail nicely with what you’re looking to pitch. 

Did I also mention ditching the jargon? Explain what your company or product does in the simplest way possible, and you get extra marks if you create a story out of it or share an actual scenario where your product was perfect for a user. It’s a lot more captivating. 

Some founders argue that the points I’ve suggested sound like full-time jobs or may even say that selling their story to journalists in this way doesn’t come naturally to them. As far as I know, a lot of founders don’t enjoy the process of speaking to investors about raising funding, but they suck it up and do it because it’s crucial. Other founders go as far as having co-founders who have great relationship-building skills.

It should work pretty much the same with the media. If you or your cofounder aren’t great at doing this sort of selling, you might also be well served to hire a journalist or PR expert (a cheaper alternative to agencies) who can do the legwork for you.

Alright. Get out there and win some quality coverage for your startup! 

📚 What I’ve been reading:

🔫  Parting shot

What's on your mind? Drop us a note via connect@africanpreseed.com to let us know. Or, tag us on socials using #africanpreseedpodcast, #APSnewsletter or #APSVibeCheck.

That's it for now. See you next month! 😉