Pitch the Perfect Startup Story With These Tips From the Media

For startups, there’s more than one way to woo the press.
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Most startups try to appeal to angel investors and venture capitalists, but there’s one group of people they shouldn’t forget: the press. 

The Philippine startup scene has significantly ballooned in the last five years, and who better to document this than members of the media? As news bearers, they’re always looking for a compelling success story, and the narratives of the startup community don’t disappoint. It highlights all the elements of the hero’s journey--from the struggles to the triumphs.

Moderated by Ron Baetiong, the founder and CEO of Podcast Network Asia, the Impress the Press session of the Build: A Startup Festival by Esquire Philippines and Sinigang Valley provided insight into how startups can build networks with the media. The panelists included bona fide members of platforms that extensively cover startup growth. Among them were PJ Caña, Esquire Philippines Associate Editor, Willis Wee, founder and CEO of TechInAsia, and Mohan Belani, co-founder and CEO of e27. Here are the top tips startups should remember.

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1| Refine your story

Caña is looking for founders who have compelling stories to tell. He says that when looking for newsworthy startups to cover, he often looks for two things: whether they have created a product that is truly disrupting its sector and whether they have overcome significant odds to make their visions a reality.

There are many things that compete with a writer’s attention on a day-to-day basis. If you’re sure that you have a story to tell, then make it as succinct and powerful as possible. What makes you different from other startups? And have you shown the grit and tenacity that makes your story inspiring and worthy to tell? 

2| Don’t be shy to admit your failures

Remember: it’s a journalist’s job to probe and poke at all the parts of a story. If they’ve been covering the startup scene for a while, then it’s likely that they have extensive knowledge of the area. Needless to say, cut the BS when it comes to the media. You aren’t doing yourself any favors. They’re bound to smell if you’re misconstruing or overblowing your product. That’s why for Wee, it pays to be as transparent as possible. Nobody is perfect, after all.

The same rhetoric goes for failures. Failure is something we all shy away from, but the truth is: everyone loves a good redemption story. In a community where we only get the success reels in everyone’s story, overcoming failures shows a true test of character.

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3| Pitch to the right reporters

Aside from building a good rapport with the press, it’s also a good idea to pitch to reporters who are interested in your beat. A lifestyle writer will obviously be less interested in your startup than, say, a writer focusing on tech and startups. Esquire Philippines, Tech In Asia, e27 are all platforms that cover startup growth in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. 

While your story may be engaging and compelling, it’s of little value if you don’t find the right platform to create company awareness. 

Spend more energy on creating value in your product, rather than making it appear that your product has value. 

4| Be ready for good press and bad press.

But even if you do get to that magical interview with a journalist, not everything will be sunshine and rainbows. They aren’t exactly paid to make you look good. When push comes to shove, there could be bad press along with the exposure. As Caña put it, “You have to be prepared for the flip side.”

But Mohan leaves a nugget of wisdom for founders, “There are always ways to own the negative press.” He adds that founders have to position the story in a way where founders look past the negative story and look for the silver liningmay be a lesson learned. 

5| Do the good work, let the success follow

All three panelists pushed that rather than focusing on brand image and value, founders should do good work. Spend more energy on creating value in your product, rather than making it appear that your product has value. 

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Once you have achieved the results you want, then you can sit back and let the press come to you. Wee puts it best: “The best type of founders are those who use traction to tell the story.” You have to be sure you have a good product first before finding others who will want to believe in your cause. He also adds that “The best type of pitch comes from the founder themselves.”

Pitching to the press may sound intimidating, but Caña believes that the partnership benefits both parties well. “Between the press and startup founders, it’s best to look at it as a symbiosis,” he said. And what a network that can be. 

As the Philippine startup ecosystem grows, shifting mindsets and growing infrastructures will only make startups flourish and thrive.

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