Pitching your startup to the Media: lessons from #OCSummit18

Pitching your startup to the Media: lessons from #OCSummit18

So your startup wants to get massive media coverage? Every startup dreams about the moment that Techcrunch, VentureBeat, The New York Times, Fast Company is interested in covering their story. What better way to learn about how to get massive media coverage than from the journalists themselves?

Pitch the Press @ OurCrowd Summit 2018

On February 1st, Jerusalem based OurCrowd hosted its annual summit in Jerusalem, which drew approximately 10,000 attendees, including 1,000 startups, 500 venture capitalists, and 500 multinationals from 90 countries. It’s certainly the largest hi-tech event in Israel and probably the biggest equity crowdfunding event in the world.

With so many startups jockeying for press coverage, it makes perfect sense that one of the breakout sessions focused on how to get the attention of the best journalists.

The session brought 5 senior journalists from some of the world’s most influential media organizations (Techcrunch, VentureBeat, Fast Company, NY Times) onto a panel, allowing 3 startups to pitch their story and receive feedback from the journalists on what messages, points, and approach pique their interest and would inspire them to write for their audiences of millions.

This was the ideal session for anyone who ever wondered why things make the news.

Each of the startups did a great job pitching, but during the session, I took some notes on what these top-tiered journalists shared to provide an outline for startups.

(note: The startups that presented are intentionally not being mentioned, each had 4 minutes to pitch and could not use a deck to support their pitch.)

Tell the Story

While the startups were unable to use a deck for their pitch, I think the first point is the foundation for all great pitches.

For some reason, every venture default to using a presentation or pitch deck as the source of information.

The tech journalists don’t want the presentations. They want a story.

In fact, Stewart Rogers, the moderator of the panel (who was superb), said:

“Storytelling is the key to pitching your venture. Create an emotional connection to the product/ service you’re selling”.

So how does a startup tell a compelling story to journalists?

Choose the Right Story to Tell

At OurCrowd, the nature of the panel did not get down to this level but it was clear that the journalists would only respond to stories that were relevant to their interests, meet their niche of the tech/ startup scene, and that fit within the framework of their media outlet.

Generally, media pitches can be divided into one of four categories

  • Success/ Traction. Best story. It’s the one that shows the most success. It’s the one that validates the proof of concept in the best way. Why? Because nothing proves success better than the growth of users. The data is proof. What else could be a great story? Did your startup secure great partnerships with big partners or customers? Tell this story. That’s what journalists want to hear.
    • Ideally, if you can personalize it, even better. Give the story a persona, tell it through their eyes, how did they benefit from the product? What kind of difference did it make?
  • Lead with Your Team. So many startups are stuck in a cycle of waiting for that big traction story but can’t get the traction without some media. Try pitching the team. Tell the story of the people behind the startup. What makes this team great? Did they have previous successes?
  • Stick to Tech. The traction isn’t there yet, and the team is good but not pitch-worthy, maybe the tech is the ticket? Is your startup cooking up something really disruptive impressive in an important industry? Try the tech angle.
  • Big Thinking. Honestly, this is the hardest pitch to present to media. Sometimes, if times are slow for journalists they’ll take it. The 5 panelists agreed that on any given day, they receive about 50-100 pitches from startups. I’d imagine that many of them fall under the ‘vision’ category.

Think Sandwich Media Pitch

During the panel, the presenters had 4 minutes. They all focused on maximizing the first 30 seconds to pitch the panel with the most compelling angle. They passionately presented their venture to grab the journalists’ attention from the very beginning.

It’s no secret that the most memorable media pitches start with the success, impress with delight, inform, and leave the media inspired.

I once read that Dave McClure uses the Traction Sandwich analogy when pitching (his analogy was focused on pitching the traction angle but can certainly apply to any of the other media angles, too.).

Want to grab the journalists’ attention and make your startup memorable, open with a success!

Pitch the most impressive success first!

Besides, who doesn’t love a good sandwich?

Digital Transformation Consultation

Think Long Term

During the panel, there were certainly brief moments that I sensed the startups were ‘luring’ the journalists (in a positive way).

Startups that can present the problem to journalists in a way that they become an integral component of the solution, meaning they are onboard and eager to solve it or are interested in helping to promote the future solution, then the startup has secured a long-term partner, not a journalist.

Don’t Bury the Lead

When pitching to media, the panelists all expressed how many startups “bury the lead.”

Meaning that they hide the main hook somewhere in the middle of the pitch.


It’s probably because the startup hasn’t distilled and iterated their pitch enough (more on that soon). Start the pitch with the most important item. The soundbite. That’s what media want.

In fact, a few of the panelists said that they prefer only 5 sentences as an initial media pitch. With only 5 sentences to wow the journalist, it better be really good. 

Answer the Right Questions

What else should go into a great media pitch? Providing answers to the right questions.

When I read The Art of the Start 2.0, Guy Kawasaki lists 10 slides that every startup should include in an investor deck.  It’s not a far leap to make this deck applicable to pitching media.

Just use the deck as a foundation for crafting a compelling story.

Remember, it’s not the slides that the startup is pitching, it’s the story.


The Only 10 Slides You Need in a Pitch

From Visually.

Now, the question is how can a startup build a cohesive media pitch?

Again, the panelists did not cover this during the session but assuming that a startup has 5 sentences to pitch a journalist, this will certainly be helpful.

  1. One story sentences: Using the Guy Kawasaki pitch deck as your base, craft a story where each bullet point covers one slide. (see above).
  2. Think soundbite: Each bullet point should be a soundbite or headline 
  3. Add some “meat”: If you could only add ONE component to make the headline interesting (screenshots, a few sentences, some impressive metrics) what would it be?

When pitching media, always think “clear and concise.”

Shipping vs Iterating

During the panel, one of the presenters mentioned that a previous iteration of the pitch included a critical piece of information. The panelists expressed that this one piece of information would have been tremendously valuable in securing a story.

How could the presenter have known not to omit that piece of information?

Honestly, it’s hard to tell. The process of creating a great media pitch isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work. Even after all the work, it could be that the pitch is still not perfect.

The process involves a lot of time and effort.

This is where feedback from outside sources can help. Developing a solid media pitch isn’t easy but having the support of colleagues certainly will sharpen the final product.

Media pitches, like so many aspects of startup life, are almost never perfect.

At some point, the startup has to just go with it and as Seth Godin says, “just ship it” and hope for the best.

Journalists are People Too

Most journalists will make a decision within a few minutes of the pitch. Remember, the panelists only want 5 sentences.

Make them count. Sell your story with passion and conviction.

Remember that on the other side of the computer is a person.

A startup only has one chance to make a good first impression. It’s all about telling a compelling narrative and enabling the journalist to sense that passion.

Now What?

So there you have it: a solid outline for pitching a startup to journalists and media. Any startup can present, but not many can deliver a winning pitch that is sure to secure journalists and excite them about covering the story.


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