A not-so standard exchange between #Founder and #Journalist

A not-so standard exchange between #Founder and #Journalist
European StartUp Scene

angry-man-laptop

I receive a lot of emails – not so much that I can’t get around to all of them, but enough to have a preferred method of receiving email pitches. A while back, a friend asked me to tell him the 5 best & 5 worst pitches I receive, and what I like to see. “Maybe send me an example of a bad pitch, if you have one” he said. I didn’t have one in mind, because bad pitches just go in the trash. Mediocre pitches, however, always get a response, and if I get a good vibe from someone, I respond and ask for more details, or fewer details, and ask them to answer a few questions so that I can better understand.

For me, helping startups pitch better is part of my job. I know that I’m not talking to the director of PR for a major company. I’m talking to a hacker who decided he doesn’t want to work somewhere else. So I’m lenient. When companies send me stuff too soon, i say “Not now. Email me in 3 months.” When the pitches are long, I ask for one sentence answers. It takes me little time, and ultimately i get to see more startups, because I don’t just write them off.

Which brings us to today’s email exchange.

Email Exchange 1

Oh look: a short email referencing a previous email and an attachment to a PDF. Yay.

I’m not a huge fan of PDFs – they usually make me feel like I’m one of 10,000 people you’re emailing today, and I don’t really enjoy racing to dig through your PDF and find the most title-worthy figure or fact.

The problem with saying something like “hey, we met at X, Y, and Z” or “as we discussed earlier” is that, if I don’t remember that discussion, it means it probably wasn’t important to me. This tells me that I probably won’t be interested in what you’re about to tell me, but it’s not a game-changer. Just a rough start.

In addition, despite the fact that it was a follow-up to previous discussions, I can see that it’s coming into [email protected], and not my own emails, which tells me I never bothered to switch him over before.

Mea culpa. I didn’t answer the email – I checked my download history and I didn’t even download the PDF. 11 days go by.

#Founder follows up. I respond.

Email Exchange 2

A short reminder that I didn’t answer: I like that. I still didn’t look at the PDF, but this time I responded. Here you can see me imploring : “I really don’t want to read your PDF, but why don’t you send me something small I can read in order to learn more.” One of my favorite questions is : “What have you accomplished in the past 6 months,” because it is bullshitter proof. Rude Baguette, for example, has organized 5 events + 1 day conference, planned 2 day-events for September, and started working on one or two secret things that I look forward to sharing later. We also nearly doubled our monthly traffic since January.

These questions will be different for every journalist – I’m a big fan of “past, present, and future,” I like films more than pictures, actions more than words. Some people like breaking news, big names, figures & exciting sectors (I like those, too, it’s just a question of priorities).

PS: Notice that my email’s response time was 5 minutes. Just saying.

Here’s where #Founder messes up.

Email Exchange 3

My dad taught me one great lesson about emails – Mark Suster also talks a bit about it here – the short & dirty of it is : “if you’re feeling emotional, don’t hit send.” Nothing good comes out of it. I’ve done it twice this year, and regretted it both times, and followed up (not in as timely a manner as I wish I had) to own up to my mistake.

Nevermind the fact that this email is longer than an email answering my questions would’ve been, there are a lot of presumptions in here that #founder is making. 1) That I remember speaking with him 2) That “follow up with me” means “I love your company. Specifically, you, send me something ASAP, just not the thing you just sent me.” 3) That I am above copying and pasting an email exchange in order to prove a bigger point about #founder #journalist relationships.

As it turns out, I will remember this company. I read into them and they are a service company – we don’t write about service companies (often), but we do write about founder mistakes when it comes to PR – like that time someone tweeted “remember when you sucked my dick…” to me.

Conclusion: forget best practices, just don’t leave a bad impression.

You’ll read a lot about how to reach journalists, what to say, how short or long to make emails or press releases, and all the messages will end with some version of the same advice: “The important thing is developing a relationship with them,” and that’s true. But before we start a relationship, let’s get the first impression under our belts first. Running at someone yelling “WHY DON’T YOU ANSWER MY CALLS” with withered flowers in hand is definitely going to leave an impression on a first date – just not the kind of impression you were hoping for.

Email Exchange 4

At least I’m honest, right?

14 Responses

  1. Gurpreet KANG

    Thanks for this post, Liam. Now I know what information to send when I launch my own start-up. 🙂 Awesome great lesson about emails – “if you’re feeling emotional, don’t hit send.”

  2. Franck Nouyrigat

    They should have a good lab plugin for that 🙂

  3. Brad Patterson

    I like it when the “rude” of the rudebaguette comes out… and by the end, you realize it’s not really rude. It’s just raw. Branding change? 😉

  4. phil_r

    ** “The important thing is developing a relationship with them,” and that’s true **

    Yeah, well, from a journalist perspective, maybe. But from an entrepreneurs’, I beg to differ.

    If I get your message properly, entrepreneurs should be nice to you because… well, because you’re a journalist, and you’re worth it, despite – in this particular case – clearly showing no respect to them. If you can’t be bothered opening up an attached file (not even checking if it holds answers to the questions you’re subsequently asking), well, stuff it. I’d have probably reacted in the very same way.

    To me it feels like you’ve been “remis à ta place”, fair and square, and didn’t like it so much…

    Oh, and taking this public is imho way out of order. Certainly not the kind of article I enjoy reading on rudebaguette.

    In the end, You both got it wrong.

    • Liam Boogar

      A fair amount of assumptions in your argument:
      1) That the relationship between an entrepreneur and a journalist should be equal (i.e: “you need us as much as we need you.” The reality is that we(journalists) need you(entrepreneurs) a lot, but we don’t need you(a particular entrepreneur) that much. The same way you(enterpreneurs) don’t nee me(a particular journalist) all that much. It’s still a ‘balanced’ relationship, but context is everything.
      2) You’re assuming I think “I’m worth it” and that I “clearly” show no respoect. You’ve got the entire email exchange, so let me know where my respect fell short of expectations.
      3) In the grand scheme of things, opening up and reading a particular PDF takes about 5 minutes. On the other hand, responding quickly to an email with a few stock questions that I wasn’t able to find in the first 20 seconds of reading the email, whose responses will ultimately take me 2 minutes to absorb, saves me about 2 1/2 minutes, not to mention the risk that in the 5 minutes of reading a PDF, I don’t get the answers to the questions I’m looking for. Just because it’s an attachment doesn’t me it has any more value than the email it is attached to.

      “Taking this public” is a stretch. If I had not screenshot-ted the conversation, and had presented it as a hypothetical situation, the value of the article would be less, in that A) no one would believe it B) people would want “more context” in order to judge and C) “it depends on…” would flood comments.

      I have not embarrassed anyone in this post. I have not presumed to be better than the anonymous entrepreneur with whom I interacted, and I even called out my own mistakes in the articles.

      Before presuming that my goal is to put myself on a pedastol, reflect on the idea that I emailed back and forth with this individuals 4-5 times, and then wrote a 700 word post, and then continued to exchange with him on the subject afterwards. If my goal was to snub him, I would’ve just trashed his email. My goal is to help people improve their interactions with journalists in the future (and, agree or not, I’m sure you will think twice about how you email a journalist in the future).

      If there’s anything to take away from this article, it’s those four questions: context is great, if I am interested in it. But what is the minimum amount of information you can give me in order for me to assess my interest and my readers’ interest?

    • Gurpreet KANG

      I know that it was a reply to Phil’s comment but as it is out to be read by public anyway, here are my two cents. I said in the previous comment and I will repeat it here – This article taught me how to communicate with you about my start-up in future. I would emphasis on the word “YOU” here.

      We learnt how YOU like to be sent the information and we all should follow this if we want to communicate with YOU and want some attention from YOU. This is fair enough as this is your blog anyway. However, there should not be any generalization. I do know few journalists who love to get .pdf files in details so that they can read them, save them and then read it again whenever they want the information in detail.

      I also would not agree with you for the following lines in your comment “but we don’t need you (a particular entrepreneur) that much. The same way you (entrepreneurs) don’t need me (a particular journalist) all that much.” I think we (entrepreneurs) DO need YOU (a particular journalist) that much and you (Journalists) DO need us (a particular entrepreneur). The reason is simple – we (entrepreneurs) do not know which journalist’s coverage about our product is going to bring the most of the traffic at later stage and you journalist cannot tell with 100% surity that which particular company is going to be tomorrow’s Google or Facebook. There are a few examples of the companies which actually did appear on techcrunch and Mashable but still got most of the traffic from small blogs. Just by missing one journalist, a company can miss thousands of potential users and just by missing one company; a journalist can miss all those early updates from that ‘next big thing’. By the way, for me, the real stretch is your statement in your comment – “opening up and reading a particular PDF takes about 5 minutes”. Even if it does take 5 minutes (which I find really hard to believe); may be some of those pdf files are worth spending those 5 minutes. 🙂

    • Liam Boogar

      It would be wrong to assume that I never read PDFs. The question is not whether there’s valuable information, or whether the startup sending is important, it’s a question of delivery: if I receive every email from startups in the form of a PDF, I will spend my whole day reading PDFs = no articles, no work, no blog.

      I assumption with a PDF from a journalist’s perspective is also “this is everything you need. Go do your work.” For me, an article is the result of a conversation, a conversation in which I was convinced that there is information that should be shared with readers.

      And yes, this is my way of viewing things. As any journalist’s opinion is their opinion, and not any one else’s. However, to assume that there are no lessons to be taken away from this article that relate to communication beyond myself would be to miss an opportunity to better one’s self.

    • Gurpreet KANG

      Yes, I fully agree. & it is only fair that you expect people to send you the information according to your preferences if they want your attention. & without a doubt, I learnt several lessons. One of them was the quote about emails I absolutely loved, and I know I will follow it wholeheartedly. Despite the couple of points I don’t agree with (such as my view about the PDF attachments logic), I did enjoy reading the article.

    • Phil Gallagher (@euroinnov_philg)

      Phil – why not just answer his 4 savvy short questions? As a journalist he wants a headline & deck to know if your copy (pdf) is worth reading

  5. phil_r

    Liam,

    I don’t know if I am assuming a lot, or just taking a different perspective…

    1/ I understand you want to help entrepreneurs in pitching better, but how can you do that if dont “listen” to their pitch in the first place? Here you’re picking on ‘how’ a piece of information should be conveyed to you, rather than what kind of information should be conveyed to you, and that feels a bit odd to me.

    2/ As for respect and equal relationship: so someone asks for you to review their project. You ask them to get back to you 3mths later. Which they oblige. You don’t bother reading. They insist. You still don’t bother, plus ask them to rephrase something you haven’t read, putting the blame on them ‘mine de rien’… doesn’t sound to me like the start to an equal and respectful relationship.

    3/ What you are basically saying is that since you haven’t got 5mn to spare – fair enough – they should be doing the works for you – unfair.
    As an entrepreneur – and I’m sure you understand that – I can’t afford to package my core messages to different formats just for the fun of it. PDF is a fairly standard format today, if you don’t like it fair enough, but don’t blame me for using it.

    4/ A stretch indeed, fair enough. I just don’t see how that particular example supports the point you are trying to make. Again – and that’s probably something we might have to agree to disagree on – to me this shows that an entrepreneur/journalist relationship cannot be equal, since journalists are the ones calling the shots when it comes down to publishing.

    As for your other remarks, I certainly don’t think you’re bragging around here. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for the past year or so, it is certainly a source of valuable information, advice, comments.
    But in that particular example, I feel it misses the point: I didn’t get much information about how to better interact with journalists.
    I do know how to better interact with Liam Boogar though, and I guess that’s a start…!

    BR/PR

  6. Raf Weverbergh (@rafweverbergh)

    I always hated attached PDFs press releases when I was a journalist/blogger (yes, it DOES take effort to open all those damn things). I always tell people just write a plain text e-mail to journalists and focus on the news, preferably with some mention of an industry trend and hopefully with something that shows that you have, at some point in the recent past, taken the effort to read some of said journalist’s work.

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