On the podcast: How to pitch your app to the press, the importance of focusing on differentiation, and why customizing your pitch to an individual writer is so much more effective.
PR for user acquisition (UA) is best suited for acquiring very specific users. If you’re looking for big numbers then there are better channels to use. But PR allows you to pinpoint your UA to reach smaller, higher-intent audiences, such as early adopters or power users, who help you fulfill a particular goal.
When working with PR agencies or consultants, know what kind of outcome you’re after. For apps that just want to reach a wide audience, a firm focused more on outreach at scale might be sufficient. But most apps will benefit more from a strategist who will help craft deep meaningful stories over the long-term.
When pitching, think about the writer, not just the publication. Find the writer who will have the greatest personal interest in your story — not only will your pitch success rate be higher, but the subsequent write-up will be much more meaningful and useful to you down the road.
Keep your email pitch brief and your press-kit comprehensive. Use the subject line and body copy to highlight uniqueness; feel free to use images but keep it brief. Your press kit, however, should provide enough detail for the journalist to write their story out-of-the-box — but don’t go as far as to write it yourself.
To effectively pitch your app to TechCrunch, specifically, focus on what sets your app apart. A well-executed idea with quality design is just the starting point. Elevate your pitch by highlighting unique features and differentiation. Adding personal stories can further enhance the appeal and depth of your pitch.
👨💻 Former Editor-in-Chief of TechCrunch.
✍️ With over 14 years of experience as a tech journalist, Matthew is an expert in the art of the pitch.
💡 “Those stories tend to be the most potent, valuable, and interesting long term, especially for early-stage companies. You convert somebody into a believer, a believer in the thing that you’re doing, the thing that you’re trying to accomplish, the mission that you have. And those writers will become sort of chroniclers of your progress over time. If you’re able to capture one or two of those [writers] ... to get into the minds and hearts of individual writers at a publication, it’s so much more valuable than, ‘Oh, we got covered by Publication X.’”
Links & Resources:
[1:12] Pitch perfect: How to pitch your app to a tech reporter in a cold email (that they’ll actually read).
[14:01] Stand out from the crowd: A competitor’s downtime or failure may be a good opportunity to market your app, but it isn’t enough — you need to highlight your app’s differentiating features, too.
[18:05] Know your audience: Choose not only the right publication but also the right reporter to write about your app.
[26:41] Broad versus targeted UA: Getting your app featured in a publication like TechCrunch can help you acquire a highly interested group of users (early adopters, power users, and people who will send you feedback).
[45:15] To PR or not to PR?: Whether or not you should work with a PR firm depends on your app.
[48:18] The whole kit and caboodle: Create a press kit that makes it easy for a journalist to tell your app’s story.
Welcome, to the Sub Club podcast, a show dedicated to the best practices for building and growing at businesses. We sit down with the entrepreneurs, investors, and builders behind the most successful apps in the world to learn from their successes and failures. Sub Club is brought to you by Revenue Cat. Thousands of the world's best apps trust Revenue Cat to power in-app purchases, manage customers, and grow revenue across iOS, Android, and the web. You can learn more at revenuecat.com. Let's get into the show.
Hello, I'm your host, David Barnard and my guest today is Matthew Panzarino, the former Editor-In-Chief at Tech Crunch. On the podcast, I talk with Matthew about how to pitch your app to the press, the importance of focusing on differentiation, and why customizing your pitch to an individual writer is so much more effective. Hey, Matthew, thanks so much for joining me on the podcast today.
Thanks, David. Appreciate you having me on.
Yeah, so I'm excited to talk through, you were at Tech Crunch for 10 years and before that, working at the Next Web, and have a lot of insights in what it's like to be a writer who's pitched hundreds of times a day, but also know how to tell great stories and how to get attention for things. So I want to dive in, just talking about what it's like to be a writer in 2023. I think a lot of folks don't quite understand just how inundated folks' email boxes are, so when they send out a pitch, they don't know that there one of maybe hundreds in a single day and they are expecting a response, but aren't crafting their pitch in a way that helps get attention. So let's just kick it off with that. What is it like for your average Tech Crunch writer? And you know so many other people in the people in the press as well, but what's it like in 2023 to be a tech journalist?
Yeah, I mean it is tough. You're right, the fire hose thing is real. There's just an enormous amount. If we look at the early days of the app store in the 2010, 2011 range, I mean, obviously, App Store was launched a couple years prior, but didn't really start to ain steam beyond boutique apps or early adopters shipping apps until about the 2010, 2011 range. That was essentially when the pendulum swung towards everybody must have an app. Like, oh, you are a brand, you are a company, you are an entity, you should have an app, as well as, of course, the new companies being founded turning towards, "Oh, you're founding a company that does a thing on the internet? Why aren't you doing it as an app?" That was the kind of turning point.
At that time, the volume was very much manageable, right? It was, hey, dozens of apps are launching every week but we can scan those, get a feel for what's interesting. Maybe there's an existing brand that is launching an app presence and so we're going to see what their take on it is because at that point, you're charting in real time, charting the history of what it means to make an app. What features it needs, what design looks like in that space, et cetera.
I believe that's how you and I met when you were at the Next Web. I think it was like a cold pitch at the Next Web in 2010, 2011, is when we first were talking. And it was, it was genuinely easier back then to get a hold of somebody like you and have a conversation and talk about your app.
Yeah, I mean I think those days of, hey, I'm just a person who's trying to do a thing and it's app-related. The app part of it was enough to kind of go, okay, cool, it's an app thing. Let me look at it, see if there's anything that I think, on the first glance, it seems compelling or clever or stands out in some way like they're leveraging a new piece of framework that iOS is launching, right? Now obviously, not everybody thinks this way, but as far as the core tech press, which is really my only real perspective on this, I never really existed in the long tail newsrooms where it's like, the storytelling gets more nebulous around, does this touch on a cultural moment, is there a celebrity involved, does it tap into another Zeitgeist that I already cover? That's different. But for us at that time specifically, and frankly even to this day, it's like, oh, you're leveraging a bit of new technology that's been launched by the platform, whether it's like Apple or Google or whoever else, where you're leveraging a new sensor, a new piece of hardware, and you're saying, like, "Hey, this makes this experience possible. It wasn't possible before."
I think a lot of that stuff was very easy in the early days to pick up on and go, oh, okay, cool. This is clever, it seems interesting, the person seems like they have their stuff together. It seems well-designed, because design is a calling card, as you and I both well know. It's the equivalent of a well-designed business card is now you web presence or your app. If it looks clean, crisp, well-designed, well-presented, the copy is simple and clean and spelled correctly, the font choices are good, these things are, for someone who is actively looking at an app and saying, should I cover this or should I not, every day, you just sort of get a sensibility about which of those are going to be worth your attention out of the hundreds of pitches that you may receive in a day. Uh, if you're flicking through those, you're like, hey, this stands out for those reasons.
But even if you are not a student of app design or a student of typography or anything like that, it is very much subcutaneus. It's there, right? Whether you actively realize it or not, it's affecting you as the viewer. And so, I think that's important to remember. Putting your best foot forward design-wise, or sidestepping that entirely and generating curiosity based on lack of information. That's also a tact. Because the fact is, to rein ourselves in and bring it back to that exact question about getting attention and what it's like to be a writer, you have a few seconds per email, at most, to make any judgment call about whether or not you're going to engage with it. And I'm talking about whether or not you're going to click through from the subject line. Some people are crazy and work with their inbox on an expanded basis. For me, it's sender and subject line. That is the most I can afford, real estate-wise. But other writers work differently so this is not a mandate. It's not how everybody works. But most of the people I know work this way.
And so, your subject line needs to be simple, it needs to either be very short or very long. In other words, are you putting everything in the subject line and the body is basically just, here's the contact information, or here's a link to a press kit? Or are you trying to say, please look at this because X, Y, Z? Very short, very simple, and then get in there and then make your pitch in the copy. So there's two major approaches I feel that work very well for a write who's scanning subject lines.
So your subject line maybe gets in the major keywords which should not, by the way, for the most part, be hinged on public affairs. I just don't feel that public affairs pitching works well. That's news hook pitching, which I think a lot of PR agencies will tell you to do and think is very useful. I don't, in general, find it very useful and I think most writers, unfortunately, tend to be more skeptical and jaded than your average audience because they see more, right? They see 10 times as much as they actually write and publish. And that means that if you're going to them saying, like, "Oh, did you see that so-and-so said some dumb stuff on the internet? Well, our app fixes that." Or even worse, some natural disaster just happened. Guess what? Our app...
It's like, don't do that. A, it's just poor taste. But then, B, I don't think any writer has ever really been tempted by that hook, any quality writer, I think that's the last thing I would do. Your subject line keywords should, however, be geared towards one or two levels up in the beta of what's happening. So you should be cognizant of the world around us. Let's say we pull you out a current affair that would be interesting to pitch around, your fintech app, this post zero interest rate universe if you have something that appeals to a demographic that may have been less likely to be interested in it before when interest rates were low.
Let's say you are, I'll just pick one out of the ether because I like them. I think they're cool but like a Copilot. Copilot took advantage of the fact that... And very straightforwardly and non-queasily, took advantage of the fact that Mint was shutdown by Intuit. And Copilot had been building for a long time. This is obviously not something where they're like, ooh, Mint's going to get shutdown. Let me build this thing. They have existed. They have been grinding it out. I use it. I think it's a really cool app for personal finance management. But they've done the work, however, they were ready. They were on the balls of their feet.
When Mint was shutdown, they took advantage of it by sharing, doing a little pitching I'm sure, there was organic stuff a lot. People just said, "Oh, what is the other good stuff out there?" Well, they had done the work to make their presence known and they had a little bit of traction so you end up in this position where you're able to capitalize on this Mint shutdown. That's a very organic, current affairs, news hook type marketing plan, or at least marketing reaction, right? They're a small team so I'm sure it was not like, "Let's gear up the department." It's like, "No, all hands on deck. What do we need to do to take advantage of this scenario?" And I think they did that well.
I use a very similar app, Monarch Money. It's a fantastic one as well. So your Copilot, your Monarch, you were talking about you only see the subject line. So what's a subject line they write that's going to get your attention? How do you tell that story in 10 words or less to get attention in that subject line?
It's like, if you're losing Mint, we're here to help. If you're going to go at it at the subject line, I think what you do is, instead of capitalizing or leaning into the schadenfreude of the situation, or the negative connotation. "Oh, Mint sucked. We're better." Or, "Oh, so sad, Mint's gone. Good thing we're here." Instead, it's like, "Hey, this thing millions of people used over the course of a decade, is going away. And we know a lot of you are sort of wondering, "What's next?" We are here to help. We think we're next, we think we're great," et cetera. So confidence, clarity in your mission, we're here to help you manage your finances, we are here to step into that gap, but no reveling in the demise. That's a restraint thing that is hard for people to feel because in the moment, you want to take advantage of it and you are viewing it as an entity.
Because the fact is, most people realize if you were a Mint user early on, you realize they haven't really done anything with that product in a long time. It hasn't gotten any better in any material way. It, however, was doing a job for a lot of people still. And it was being maintained and there are still people that work at Mint, trying to keep it running and the financial systems connections require cost and upkeep. So there's no way that that app was not being worked on. So there's dozens, if not hundreds, of people that are probably out of a job now, et cetera, et cetera. So you've got to think through your second order of facts of your copy.
So if you were to go into that thing with really leading into the capitalizing on the shutdown angle, then you end up setting yourself up for looking like a jerk. Saying, "Oh, you don't care about the people that just lost their jobs," or capitalizing on the misfortune of people who maybe really relied on Mint to give them a snapshot of their financial situation and are not desperately looking for something new. And instead, you're like, "Hey, it's really unfortunate that such a pillar of the community shut down. But we've been working on something we think is even better, so feel free to take a look at what we've got here."
That's the way I would position my thought process around pitching that. You want the attention. You've got to capitalize on the moment. That's a given. But doing it with style and with restraint allows you the freedom in the future to be like, "Hey, we were never an antagonist in this space. We were always working alongside these other places to try to do the job we're all trying to do, which is help you manage your finances better. Our job is not to beat other people; it's to do a job for you, hopefully better than everybody else." And I think that's hard for some early stage companies to modulate.
On that note, while I'm foreseeing you did live pitches, I think this is another good kind of example of that kind of opportunity. In, I think it was this spring or last spring, Apple Weather was going down a bunch. There were actually a lot of posts about like, hey, Apple Weather is not reliable anymore. Here are the apps to use instead. And I actually have a weather app. We hadn't updated it so I didn't bother pitching it, but if I were in that moment with my weather app, how do I pitch like, hey, Apple Weather is going down. Use my app instead? How do you approach that without throwing Apple under the bus? These are the kind of things that come up for app developers where they've got a better solution or things happen to other app, or things like that. So, how would you pitch that without totally throwing Apple under the bus?
Well, there's two components to that. One is, you have to understand when you're punching up or punching down. This goes for journalism as well. Writers often have issues with this, especially early in their career. You have to understand the weight that you carry versus the weight that you are pushing against. Apple can handle it, right? In many ways, Apple can sort of take the abuse as an organization.
Now, on an individual level, I'm sure the people that work on weather weren't happy that it was breaking a lot but it is a matter of general states and I think if you evaluate every scenario by that rule of not punching down, you can sometimes realize, hey, it's okay to get a little feisty with our marketing when it comes to competing with a company like Apple which has enormous resources to get this stuff right. They have essentially infinite resources. The fact that they work in small teams does not absolve them from the idea of having infrastructure that's sound and that works well and they take that seriously. And the fact of the matter is, is that they should. And so, calling them out or saying, "Hey, if you went to Apple Weather today and you got a blank screen, maybe it's time to look at some other options," is not necessarily something where I would put it in that same pocket of reveling in the demise of an architecture that employs a lot of people or that people have relied on for a long time.
So I think it's actually okay to get a little feistier when you're dealing with the giants, literally the biggest company on the planet, definitely the biggest tech company, sometimes biggest company overall. And I think it's harder to generate empathy in an audience or in yourself when you're competing with that. There's a phenomenon and I think where people will capitalize on a moment in time and create a marketing plan or create a pitch around it but without any sort of consideration of what happens after.
So let's say, okay, Apple Weather is kind of being wonky. Maybe it's been wonky for a day and then the second day of outages goes in and you're like, we're a weather app. Why aren't we putting ourselves out there as an alternative for people who need a weather app right now, you know? And you go and make that plan and you put it out there and let's say your plan is something like, to riff on the idea that Apple Weather isn't there, but we're there for you. We still have all of this stuff. We have all the information you need to decide whether or not you're wearing a coat or whether or not your job site is going to be muddy today and whatever, right? The order of ramifications of weather is what you're playing on, right? Like, what do you need? And then you make that whole marketing plan around that.
But what happens when Apple Weather comes back up and it's really strong again? What stops people from moving away from you and back to Apple Weather because they're like, your whole pitch was, they're not there, we are. Okay, well they came back so why you, right? And so, and I think instead you really have to go to this order of Apple Weather is down so we're going to use that as an opportunity to market ourselves. But the marketing really should not be around Apple Weather being down and us being up. Instead, it should be around why our experience and feature set is better than Apple Weather at any time. You're using the moment that they're down to push into that gap and push into keywords being on the rise and the searches being on the rise and all of the pattern matching and registration is aligning and spiking, search terms are spiking and your attribution opportunities are arising, your keyword marketing opportunities are rising up. All that's great. Step into the gap.
But instead of stepping in with the message that like, ha ha, they're down, we're not, you step in with a message that like, hey, if they're down, did you know we offer all of these really cool features that Apple Weather doesn't? Mainly because they have a focused experience and we have on that single app and they're doing so many things. But this is all we do. This is all we care about. We care about weather, weather, weather, all the way down. Apple cares about weather for five minutes out of a year, metaphorically speaking. And all we do is care about this. And so here's all the features and things that you've been missing from that experience that just happens to be down right now.
And I think that that's the way you do it because on the other end of that marketing push, on the other end of all those users, the churn is mitigated by the fact that those users came in through a pipeline of understanding the differentiation factors, not just the needs in the moment of an app that was up while another one was down. And I think that that's like a key strategic mistake that a lot of companies make, especially early on, is that they view targets of opportunity as moments to win in a moment, but they don't consider the ramifications downstream.
If your marketing has been preaching that you're really good because X, Y or Z, other external, not internal, but external factors in place, weather being down, Mint being shut down. Those are externalities. The internalities are, we're really good, we're well-designed, we're a pleasure to use, we can serve you well. Those internalities are the things that will keep your users there and keep them from churning back out when Apple Weather comes back up, or even when the next keynote announces one more feature for Apple Weather.
It keeps them from churning out because they're like, oh yeah, but I have all these features that I was pitched on, marketed on, as I was coming into this thing. They're still there, I still use them and they're still great. And I think that's a huge misstep that a lot of people make because they're so anxious to take advantage of the moment, they think that the moment is the marketing when in fact, the moment is just the moment. And the marketing should be the same story that you've been telling about yourself and your benefits, the app's benefits to the user, the whole time and will tell into the future.
I want to get back into pitching in a bit, but I do want to step back to the first question we started on which was, understanding what it's like to be a journalist in 2023. And as you alluded to, there's so many more pitches, so much more news. How did you at Tech Crunch as editor-in-chief decide how to balance the breaking news, the, this company raised this amount of money, this app did this? I mean, there's so many potential topics to write about. Help us understand that thought process for a write of what is actually worth covering when you could technically write 10,000 posts a day and potentially all of them be fairly interesting. It's like you have to prioritize. So how does a newsroom kind of approach that in 2023?
I don't want to pretend that there's some sort of magical equilibrium that I ever was able to achieve. You are always balancing those needs, the needs of the audience to hear new information, for you to scoop new information that was previously unknown, for you to serve an existing audience by covering the things that you know they already want, and then a certain percentage of it that is about keeping yourself from getting burnt out by covering things that you want to cover. You just go, this is personally interesting to me.
And honestly, those stories tend to be the most potent and valuable and interesting longterm, especially for early stage companies. Like you convert somebody into a believer, a believer in the thing that you're doing, the thing that you're trying to accomplish, the mission that you have. And those writers will become sort of chroniclers of your progress over time. If you're able to capture one or two of those folks, everybody else is targets of opportunity, but you're able to sort of get into the minds and hearts of individual writers at a publication, it's so much more valuable than, oh, we got covered by publication X.
It really is about getting covered by writer-wide. And that is because they have an audience that they are trying to intentionally build. And it's just like anything else. Why do advertise on Google instead of advertising on the street? Well, Google has aggregated an audience intentionally for this purpose and that writer is doing a lot of the same work. Not for the same reasons but really, to the same end which is, they want a portable audience that comes with them wherever they go. They want people to understand that they are an authority on a particular subject because that begets new stories. They're able to generate sourcing in a particular universe, build a Rolodex in that universe, understand it really well so that when you come along pitching an app that happens to exist in that universe, let's say laundry as a service, or whatever you're pitching, they're like, hey, I've covered laundry for a decade. I know this. I can pull together my priors to help me to understand how they are actually trying to make a change here, or make an impact here.
And if they have all of that pre-existing knowledge of the space, you're going to get somebody that's approaching it in a more intelligent way, in a more understanding way. You're going to get a deeper story, a richer story, one that has more meat to it and one that, frankly, will be more useful to you down the line. If you are in the venture back space, it can become an easy way to replace sending your pitch stack. You say, "Hey, check out this story that so-and-so wrote about us. I think it captures pretty well what we want to do and then if you want to know more, I'm happy to dive in and let you know what our progress has been since then, et cetera.
But I've had plenty of people tell me personally, and I know other writers have the same experience in the past where they're like, "Hey, we pitched you. You really got it from the beginning, you wrote a great story on it. It wasn't like this story was universally positive. It pointed out some of the challenges that we had. We thought it was fair. And we just stopped sending our deck and started sending the story and we raised essentially off of your story because it was an idea that here is somebody who is a student of that thing, of that space, and they are essentially taking on the role of an outside board member and saying, "Here are the challenges I think you're going to come up against. These are the things that really would be interesting if they did in the future. Here's what they're trying to do now, here are the founders and their story and why they seem to be the right team to tackle this."
And if you are able to get that kind of story, it could become a pretty lynch pin moment. And I'm not being like aggrandizing here. There are other ways to chart your course than getting one great story. But I have had that told to me over and over and over, over the years that if you have somebody external that really believes in it and is a good storyteller and manages to tell the story in that way, even if it's not like every word is something you love. Maybe they're critiquing things about it or whatever, you end up with a believer outside and that helps. It boosts morale, it boosts your ability to tell that message and say, "We're not just speaking our book. Somebody else sees what we're trying to do." And that can be really helpful.
Yeah. I think that's a really good point is, don't just inundate all the tips email boxes, but actually go look for the writer. So if you want Tech Crunch to cover your app, you need to know who's the fintech writer, who at Tech Crunch cares about weather apps, who at Tech Crunch cared about Mint? Because the example we were giving earlier, you're going to land that pitch better if you're pitching the person who actually cares about personal finance versus pitching a broader story. I guess there's some amount of the main line tips email gets distributed if there is something interesting, your hit rates going to be higher if you know the person actually cares about what you're doing. And then craft your pitch more individualistic like, "Hey, I know you've written about personal finance in the past," and those sorts of things, I think get missed often in just this pray and pray approach to PR versus that more nuanced in crafting a message.
And then I think that audience site fit is also important. Like Tech Crunch is not the place to pitch certain things. The Tech Crunch audience doesn't go to Tech Crunch. I mean, it's a good thing for you to chime in on like how do you view the Tech Crunch audience and what they care about versus some of these pitches you get where it's a cool app but you're like, eh, it's just not what the Tech Crunch audience is coming to Tech Crunch for. This would be better for 9to5Mac or MacRumors or somebody who covers the enthusiast side of things more. How do you think about that?
There are a lot of reasons people read any site. So I don't like to overgeneralize because I've seen just how granular it can get from an audience perspective and how you have to sort of play the keyboard and really touch different tempos for different people on a day-to-day basis. But, I can say with some authority, that some of the major reasons people read Tech Crunch, there's really three kind of major reasons.
Market intelligence, like what out competitor's doing, what's happening in the space, what are people investing in, who are they investing in and is this somebody I should target because I'm in a similar space?
The second is recruiting. So very simply, we want people to join us. So if we can get a story told about what we're trying to do, how hard it is, how hard the problem is, how interesting it is, et cetera, we can then use that as a recruiting tool.
And then, raising money. If we're able to get a story there, we can then use that to raise money or get attention. Set us apart from the rest of the industry, the thousands of companies that are pitching investors because, our in boxes are inundated, investors in boxes are 10 times worse, right? On an individual basis they're not. We get it all. But I get an aggregate. Investors in boxes are very full, too.
So those are kind of the major reasons. So if somebody has got an app and they're doing any of those things, the fourth reason that anybody pitches, anybody, anywhere, which is why I didn't really include it in the primary Tech Crunch bucket, is user acquisition. So you want a pitch so that downloading use your app. Our audience is very specific in that regard. So when we post on an app, it often gets thousands of new users. That is not unusual. Sometimes tens of thousands. In rare cases, hundreds of thousands of new users over the course of several week that the article stays in high circulation. And, obviously, there's exception where Evergreen articles feature a particular app and that app still tells us, "Man, we still get people signing up from there." And that's great. It's all lovely. It's sort of the reason you put an app out there in the first place.
As a writer, you're like, I found it interesting. So if other people find it interesting, that's a win, right, for you? You don't really, I'm going to use the term very loosely here so forgive me but, you don't care if they get users or not, but it's nice because you cared in the first place. You cared to write about it so then the follow on effect of them being users feels good because you're like, cool. I cared about it enough that other people cared about it. That's my job. That part of it is fun.
But the user acquisition thing is very targeted. So if you're looking at that being your primary goal, you're not raising, you're not recruiting a bunch of people, you're hiring in maybe one or two almost always, hopefully if you're growing, looking at maybe bringing on some additional help to help you grow. But your primary use case is, okay, user acquisition. I really think that user acquisition that target for this is much better suited to things like TikTok install ads or Facebook install ads or attribution on Google or whatever the case may be. That should be your user acquisition strategy for the longterm, broad base scatter shot.
However, your pinpoint use acquisition, like acquiring certain users, certain kinds of users, then pitching a particular publication becomes very useful. So it's not like, I'm going to get a million users just because I got an article on Tech Crunch. But you may get a few thousand users of a very specific type like early adopters, power users, people that are very likely to give you feedback, people that are very likely to email you personally and be like, "Hey, I noticed this thing was broken." There's lots of really interesting cross-section of people, builders, creators, engineers, investors, people that take a very particular high intensity interest in apps in companies that they see on our site. And I think that that is very useful at certain points in your growth career, in your growth trajectory. So whereas, the long tail may feel a little different. The near term, it could be very strategically important and interesting to target search sites.
And on that topic of hosts that do sometimes get a hundred thousand views or whatever, how much in 2023 are writers still thinking, how much traction is this post going to get? How important is that? And I know that's going to vary publication to publication, but speaking from your experience at Tech Crunch and all the friends you have in journalism, how much are you thinking like, well, I don't really want to cover this because I doubt it's going to get much traction? Is that still something you're thinking about day in day out?
Yes. You would be a liar to say that that wasn't a concern that was always floating in your head because the cascading set of goals is that the publisher defines a growth goal, the editor has to figure out a way to generate the traffic to contribute to that goal or other revenue aspects that involve editorial, anything related to that whether it's traffic or, in our case, events, programming or other things like that, that from an editorial perspective, then of course it cascades down from there. If you have managers or editorial desk managers or managing editors or whatever, and then down to the writers. At some point, it's going to cascade down and that writer is going to understand that the overall goals of the publication hopefully in a nice, good way where they feel like, I want to contribute to this goal. I want us to win. That's great. At a lot of publications, I understand, it is not that pleasant and it is much more specific, like you have traffic goals of X amount. And where are the posts that are generating that? And I want these out now and we need to generate traffic X, Y or Z.
Now that's understandable. These are businesses. Editorial business is still a business. We handle things differently I think that a lot of other news orgs because we were extremely, and always were extremely transparent with our writers about where we were in terms of goal setting, why we were going there, where we were headed. It was just my leadership style to try to operate from consensus rather than mandate, rather than saying, "You will do X." It's, "Here's what we want to accomplish." And then back into the, "And then therefore, I really need you to do X." And that's, I think, has been helpful. You would have to talk to my former employees but I think it has been helpful in keeping people around for a lot longer than a lot of other orgs, or at least happier at their jobs.
But the fact is that every writer, every day, has a story selection job to do that, that's their primary job. It's not any of the other things. Everything else cascades from there. They have to select stories to pursue, right? And sometimes that comes from a source that tips them off to a thing and then they're like, I'm going to pursue this because this is unknown information and I'm going to pursue it. Sometimes it's from a pitch. Somebody's like, "I have this app. I really think you'd love it. Given everything that you write about, I'm convinced that you would love it." And you're like, "Okay. Cool. I'll bite. What is it?" And that's a story selection choice. And those choices are always predicated on the fact that like, will this push the overall or towards its goals? And that, in many ways, is traffic.
So if you're writing, therefore, ipso facto, if you are writing about something that nobody's ever heard of, you have to be very convinced that you're going to be able to tell that story in a way that's going to capture broad attention and translate that into traffic. Or you're going to have to say, "This one goes in the column of, I think it's important that we write about this now so that we look really smart later, or this will turn into a larger story later on where we'll be able to follow this down the course of its becoming a much larger thing that more people care about."
And I think that's the sweet spot for Tech Crunch is that, we always wanted to be super early to stuff. 12 to 18 months early to things so that by the time it made it to the pages of the Times or the Journal or anything like that, people could go look at the history of the company on Tech Crunch. They could go, "What did the founders say about the company three weeks after he started the company to Tech Crunch?" That's an important thing because it keeps people honest. We definitely have a lot of company history and I always told my people that in some way, we are writing the history of Silicon Valley in real time.
And so, if you're able to go back on the pages of TC and see an early, an app covered very early before anybody knew who the founder was or maybe that was their first company and now they're a serial founder bigwig or something like that. But you could see the story of it and what they were saying about it and why they founded it and all that stuff. So our writers had the remit to balance those needs, to write about broad interest stories about companies like Apple or Google or big names that almost anybody would be interested in some move they were making. But put it in the context of the startup universe. Oh, Apple farted. What does this fart mean for your business? What does it mean for a developer trying to generate its own fart? That's an important distinction about the way that we covered stuff. It wasn't just like, oh Apple did X. It's like, Apple did X and here's what it means for you and for our audience, for our particular universe.
I think a lot of sites out there, their primary job is just to recount and announce the things that Apple has done, which is fine. If that's your job, if that's your remit and you are an enthusiast site for an enthusiast audience, great. There's no shame in that. That's your thing. A lot of people are busy, they work all day. Whenever they come home they're like, I can just open 9to5Mac and scroll and see the cool stuff that's happened or I could open MacRumors and see if new hardware is going to be launching. And they got their calender and I can kind of make a buying decision. Those are all genuine user-driven services.
For us, given our universe, our service that we are providing is like, oh, I'm a developer. We're a young company. There's three of us. We're trying to make X happen and Apple just announced a thing that we can take advantage of to maybe get us in the next level. I really want to understand that thing. I want to understand what it's about. I want to get a perspective of a certain writer, as you mentioned, because I know that they understand this space really well. And if this writer tells me, this is actually kind of a dead end and most VPIs you would want to use to take advantage of this for private sale. So don't get too excited. I want to be like, okay, cool. We can modulate. We don't have to pivot and put all of our engineering resources on implementing this if we understand that it's still nascent. And Apple is like, we'll do something cool with this in two years. We can take our time, or whatever. That application of engineering resources, business decision making from an engineering perspective or from a true business perspective, monetary perspective, those things we felt were important duties.
But at the same time, you have to also be doing the work of finding the new stuff. Putting the galoshes on, wading out into the swamp and picking and holding these things up to the light because that is the job that we provide the core leadership. The people that sit down at their desk and open a tab, then the tab defaults to Tech Crunch, right? We have to service that audience of hundreds of thousands of people that read us every single day. That idea of balancing those was always a huge point of stress. Well you carry that in your lumbar because you have to satisfy the needs to grow, and the revenue needs of the organization, but you also have to satisfy the innate job that you're doing for the audience, especially the most loyal audience, and make sure that you're not giving up for the other. You can't just be all pigeonholed all the time, or all rabbit hole all the time because then you'll end up not getting any new audience at all.
But you also can't go fully broad because then the core audience is like, you don't do this job for me anymore that you used to do. I can get this broad stuff elsewhere, too, and your unique perspective isn't enough. I need the unique perspective and then I also need the brand new. That balancing act is tough.
Yeah. To kind of circle back to pitching, understanding this about Tech Crunch, I think will help folks understand how to pitch Tech Crunch. And this is why I wanted to have you on.
And this all may be changing, just so everybody knows. I'm no longer in charge, but I will say, a lot of the writers individually at TC have always appreciated the individual pitching and I know writers at other publications do, too. They tell me every day and I'm sure they tell you. If you know their work and you follow their work and you know they would be interested and fascinated in that, that is going to be a far more effective pitch than the most clever subject line that you could write, that gets blasted out to everybody.
And so when you're going to pitch Vogue, you understand what Vogue cares about and why they care about your fashion app when you're going to pitch The Verge, you need to understand what The Verge cares about, what those writers care about, what their job to be done in the broader cross ecosystem is and, like you said, 9to5Mac, a great place for new app developers to pitch because they do a ton of stories. And so you can understand, okay, for pitching 9to5Mac, they just care more about, hey, this is a new app, and they're less focused on the broader storytelling of writing the history of Silicon Valley than Tech Crunch is. So when you pitch Tech Crunch, you need to be thinking about that kind of storytelling and when you pitch 9to5Mac, you don't send them the same pitch that you sent to the write at Tech Crunch. You send them a totally different pitch.
And to be most effective at this, you really do need to understand and think about those perspectives. And I think it was really helpful for you to share that perspective. Everybody thinks, oh, Tech Crunch is the ultimate place to get my app covered or business covered or whatever, because it is that history of Silicon Valley, the paper of record for the tech industry if you will. But sometimes, you've got to tell the right story if you're actually going to get coverage.
So let's talk a little bit more about that. We kind of used two hypotheticals with Mint going down and then Apple Weather service having issues. But what are some other ways and stories that you think an app business should be pitching? Tech Crunch, specifically, and then maybe more broadly, that will register with the writers, will register with the broader audience.
Given that how crowded the app space is, I think it's really important for you to tell stories that they're going to focus on differentiation factors almost exclusively. In other words, I think a lot of times, especially in early days, you get so wrapped up in all the work that you've done to build out the basis for this thing that you're creating that you get really enamored with it, as you should. You should be really pleased with all of your work. You should be really happy because otherwise, why are you doing it? You should be really excited about the fact that it exists and that the company exists and that it has employees and that it has a product and that it's on the app store or about to be, and you should be really proud of all the fundamentals that you've built in. Maybe you've done work with accessibility, maybe you've done work with design that you're really proud of, maybe you've done work with some base cleverness of your approach.
But in all reality, all that stuff is sort of assumed. We wouldn't even be looking at your pitch or at your idea or concept or whatever if those things weren't already met. The bar is just higher now. Existing does not mean anything. Congratulations, and I'm not being rude or crude about it, but it doesn't mean anything. It's like the old saying that ideas are worthless. Ideas are worthless. That still remains true to today. Let's put it very specifically; ideas are worthless in company building because if you do not execute on those ideas, if you don't build those ideas, if you don't make those ideas real, they are worth zero, right? It's just why somebody's like, oh, I have an idea for an app. Congratulations. You have nothing. That remains true to this day.
However, I would say the bar is even higher now which is that solid design that uses at a base level Apple's fairly robust design frameworks and UI frameworks that they provided, the bone stock stuff looks pretty good these days, that uses those basic frames, or Google. If you're watching on the Android store, Google has a really solid set of design language and a solid set of UI elements now that, I think, 10 years definitely didn't exist. Maybe even five years ago wasn't that great. But I think in the last few years, we've gotten to a really solid place where there's no excuse for you not to come with a really solid game on all those fronts. But then once you reach that point, you have to realize that you've just reached zero.
And so from there, it is what you're doing in service of your mission that sets you apart. Like that differentiation in execution or onboarding or feature use or set of circumstances that is really going to allow you to catch the eye of a reporter or catch the eye of someone. The cleverness that exists above and beyond the table stakes are what is going to set it apart. That is, I think sometimes, a hard realization for a lot of people because they get in this place where they've been so close to it for so long, that they're like, we did all of these things really, really well. That's great. So do a lot of people.
I'm just going to give you rough percentages here. So if we get pitched by 500 people in a day, not unusual for any writer, if you get pitched by 500 people in a day, 100 of those people have really done the work to just put something together that looks like it is a real company. Out of those 100, maybe a dozen are even in your space. It doesn't have done the job of actually pitching you correctly in saying like, "Hey, we're real. But also we're really interesting to you. We're not just real and interesting to someone, but we're real and interesting to you as a writer." And out of those dozen, you are then forced with this forcing function of, okay, what are the unique bits out of these, and I'm exaggerating here because it doesn't always come in clumps like this, but let's say those dozen, you're a fintech writer and all of those dozen are fintech companies and all those dozen look legit. They've done the work to have a solidly designed app that seems to have some user affordances that are cool and that looks they've done the work.
And so, out of those, which of those has the interesting hook of that additional percentage above zero, whether that's a really cleverly designed feature, taking advantage of a freshly launched new sensor or feature of a platform like that Apple or Google or somebody has shipped, is addressing a need in the current environment. We talked about post-ZIRP earlier. But other environments can be like, COVID was a good example obviously of many people capitalizing on that. I don't even really think it matters if I'm talking about something that exists right now because people watch this in a maybe different a week from now. But Open AI launches a new model, you've utilized that new model in a clever way, you've got a new feature, threads that tie in to the overall stories that that writer has been covering or that the industry or audience is interested in.
And then, I think the big elephant in the room that we haven't talked about yet and that I think can be very interesting if it's done right, is the story of the people that have built this thing. So you have to reach to zero, you have to get to zero first. You have to have a thing that exists that's really well-built, that seems clever, that seems like it's tackling an interesting problem, and then you can start telling personal stories. My brother and I founded this app, my sister and I founded this app, we saw a need because our mother was in hospice and there was no eldercare app that also integrated messaging in this way so that we could check up on her quality of care every day, you know, with a few simple taps, et cetera. And those kinds of opportunities I think are ones that allow you to do that storytelling above and beyond, but you have to hit zero first.
I think that's a really good point that even in the storytelling, oh, my sister and I created this app because our mom was in hospice, that's part of a story. But you still have to tell the story of why does it matter and did you do something unique? Because if there's 100 other apps that do the same thing, your personal story of why you created it doesn't matter as much as it actually doing something. And so, I think that was a great framing. It's like, you've got to get to zero. It's got to be a good functional, well-built app. There's just such a high baseline now. But then you really do need to do something above and beyond. And I think this applies to marketing generally as well. It's just that, you need to focus on that differentiation and if you're not doing something new and unique and exciting and helpful, what are you doing? And so, getting to zero and building that stuff on top and then telling those stories is then what gives you the authority to then tell more stories about why and how and things like that. So that's a really good framing.
Changing gears a little bit, how effective do you think PR agencies are these days at helping folks tell those stories and how effective are PR agencies at working with the press these days? Do you recommend working with somebody to help craft those stories or is it maybe something a founder should just get really good at themselves and take that one-to-one approach?
There is a service provided by Good, I'm going to preface this by saying this. So let's say you manage to identify a solid PR firm with the reputation that seem very attentive to your needs and understanding of where you are in your course of existence as a company. There are definitely services that they provide that, you're trading money for time with a lot of those agencies since they're doing the work of packaging, press kits and offering up services that allow you to pitch a broad number of publications or a broad number of media or come up with that.
But I think that honestly, strategy-based comms in marketing is so much more interesting and so much more important longterm. I think a lot of people get into this thing like okay, we need somebody to make press releases and send press releases and write those and pitch people on our behalf. All that's fine and I think it can work for certain classes of company and app.
So for an app that is interested in garnering the largest possible pitch surface area that goes across hundreds or thousands of, I don't know, let's say, gaming blogs. Let's say you're a game that has a relatively quasi-predatory in-app purchase scenario and your job is to get it out to hundreds or dozens of sites that can just get it into circulation so that your SEO and therefore, attribution and acquisition strategies across Google and Facebook are aided by that. You want the purest form of PR company which is generating press releases, pitching it to thousands of sites, managing that flow and all of that stuff because you don't have the time for it. These are not people that are doing CEO interviews or in-depth explorations of the rationale behind their app. They just want the name of the app out there, the fact that it exists, the fact that it has a few screenshots that are interesting and has a link to download it. They want to seed that into the universe in a way that is one step above completely inorganic acquisition which would just be them placing ads. So that's one step above that.
But I think several steps or layers above that is the idea that you have a strategist that works with you to generate a strategy around your story. The story that you're trying to tell, how you're trying to tell it, the narrative that you're building over time that your users now and in the future will always recognize as true, the story you've always been telling. You won't get that out of PR firm. You really need to get that out of a PR strategist.
You mentioned one of the services that PR agencies can help with is press kits and things like. I know it's something that's actually really important for somebody pitching to consider is to make it as easy as possible on the writer to write the story. Any tips on how to make that super easy? So we've talked crafting a good pitch. You've got their attention but now they have to do the work. How do you make that easy and more compelling for them to tell that story?
If you want to talk about mechanical, baseline pragmatic stuff that you can do to help make sure that your pitch is more well-received, short, simple, straight to the point subject lines, a couple of lines of body copy. Don't inundate because most of that stuff won't get read, especially if it feels like it's been pasted in, which inevitably it will. Because if you're pasting something in there, why should I read a paste? I want to read a couple of simple sentences from you about why your thing is unique, why it's interesting. If you have a very defining, potent, straightforward screenshot of something that's in your app and you're like, look, we did this. It's really cool, you're going to love it, put that in there, too, right in the body of the email.
And then most writers, if they have any sort of op-sec will not have images loading automatically. So it's no harm, no fowl. It will load just as fast. You don't have to worry about it. The image will be collapsed and then they can always click on [inaudible 00:49:49] if they want to, right? But just from the nature of protecting against viruses and tracking pixels and anything else, most writers have images hidden by default.
By the way, if you can avoid on any individual pitch, I would never include tracking pixels or links. It's just sort of a matter of respect. No, I understand completely if you're doing a campaign or a broad pitch, you need those, right? Everybody understands, everybody gets it. But if you're doing individual pitch, don't do read receipts or tracking pixels inside emails and especially never, ever call them. "Oh, I saw you opened my email." Creepy. It's really weird. That's not going to do anything. If you want to email them and say, "Hey, I didn't know if you've gotten my email," great, you know what I mean? Fine. Okay, we understand persistence and followup. Although at some point, chill. The tracking stuff, do away with that.
And then, you can always attach the press kit. And then attaching a press kit with high resolution images or just providing a link to it depending on the service that you're using, with high resolution images, all the information they could ever want about the founders, their back story, the app, its purpose and then the images or assets necessary, in a link, or tucked away in an attachment. But leaving the main copy as a place for you to tell your personal story in a few sentences, I think is the most effective pitches that I've seen are that way.
We've given you all the resources that you need to write the story if you find it compelling without any additional outreach. However, we're here. If you need us, feel free. Email me directly. I'll answer right away, whatever. Here's my direct email, here's my phone number, whatever you feel comfortable with as a founder or as an app creator. But whatever direct connection you can provide is always good. Text me at, whatever, if you have questions, things like that. Because oftentimes writers are under crazy deadlines, they're trying to move fast. Getting a quick response can mean the difference between them writing that story that day or maybe it gets pushed to the next day if they don't get a response. And then Instagram sells for a billion dollars and they don't write about you anymore, right? Because they're busy with other things. And so, you want to provide the most lubrication possible. But you also don't want the body of the copy to read like a Facebook ad or to feel cluttered with all this information that's overwhelming. Just keep it simple.
I think that's fantastic advice and it's something I probably haven't done good at over the years with my press kits specifically, is that, I've kept my pitches pretty tight, but I've also kept my press kits maybe a little too tight. So you're saying the best thing is to have that really tight pitch, but once they click, you want to give them as much resource, but organized well, easy to read. You still want to craft that in a way that makes it easy on them, but to just give them all the resources where they don't have to interview you to understand parts of the story. Like they could just jump to that press kit, they have everything they need, images, details, list of features. That's where you put the depth because you've already got their attention, right?
Yeah. I think so. I think that's a really straightforward standard tactic. The one thing you do want to avoid is attempting to write the story for the writer. So if you were including a section, let's say, on bios. Let's say you feel that your founder story is really strong. You've got a set of strong founders, we mentioned that brother and sister earlier that has a compelling story about their mother in hospice and they wrote this app to facilitate communication and standards of care and all that stuff. A couple of lines about that is great. But you don't want to go too in-depth because it doesn't leave any room for the writer to tell a story.
If you have a really compelling founders story and you explained it enough in a few sentences so that they understand it, that will be enough. And then you offer the communication so that they can then communicate with you, do any additional interviewing and tease that story out and draw it out. That feels good. What doesn't feel good as a writer is somebody having pitched you what they view as the story pre-written, in quotes. Maybe not a full story pre-written, although I have seen that. It's so funny. Um, but a story about them. You want to tease them with your story. I've got a really compelling story, X, Y, I think it's really cool. But then let them go, wait, really? How did that happen? How did it come about, you know? Pulling out the details from there.
So when I say details, you want enough detail in there to offer them teasers of why the story is interesting and then, of course, mechanically speaking, like app store listings and descriptions and screenshots, all of that stuff, so that they don't have to manually go to the app store to pull screenshots or anything like that. And then, of course, [inaudible 00:54:13] links or links to download the app if it's live just to make sure that they have access to it and direct access. They don't have to go searching for it. All the mechanical stuff that I'm sure everybody knows. But and I think that's super important to include, you know?
And I think that's maybe a good framing then is, don't write the story but provide the building blocks for them to write the story. Also, well I think this has been super helpful to dig into all the thinking behind how something goes from pitch to actually landing on Tech Crunch and how to tell the right stories. And I think so much of this applies to marketing more broadly, pitching influencers, creating your copy for advertising, all those kind of things. Everything we talked about applies to that as well.
But as we wrap up, anything else you wanted to share?
I really had a nice time talking about this stuff. I mean, I think there is a high amount of noise but signal still pokes through and those ones that poke through typically are so much more fun to write about and interesting. And I think if you have an interesting and compelling story, you know it's truly differentiated, it's not a shell game, that it's basically like another vehicle. It's very similar to anything else out there but you think you've got a unique story, but you really don't, I think you're going to win out attention somewhere. Persistence does pay off. People are very, very, very busy. It's very intense out there, so don't lose heart. You will find a way to punch through. It's not a function of you. I think that's very important for founders to understand from a mental health perspective and a frustration perspective. It's very, very, very unlikely that it is anything about you personally or about some competitor there that covered and you didn't. It is generally a byproduct of it just being extremely noisy out there these days. So keep at it, stay persistent.
All right. Thanks so much Matthew. It's great having you on today.
No, problem, David. Thank you very much.
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