So, you've got this amazing biotech startup, and you're wondering, "How can I get some press to boost my business?"
From securing that coveted series A funding to landing your first clients, a well-placed article in the right publication can be the spark that ignites your business growth.
But, and there's always a "but," it can also lead to nothing.
Your approach to the press and how you pitch your idea are the X-factors that will determine your fate in this game.
Understanding the Quirks of B2B Press
Here's the first thing you've got to get straight: press editors and journalists don't give a damn about your new product.
Nope, they're not losing sleep over your groundbreaking innovation.
What keeps them up at night is a simple thing called reader satisfaction.
Sure, the specifics can vary depending on the publication, but at the core, your innovation is just a tool to help them achieve their goal — writing an article that grabs attention.
Journalists’ inboxes are bombarded with PR day in and day out.
And what's even crazier are those PR folks, acting like they've just discovered your email address and going full-on spam mode.
I mean, seriously?
I recently launched this blog, and my fresh email address is already on more distribution lists than I can count.
So, no wonder journalists have their shields up and are ultra-picky about the pitches they bother reading.
Remember, these journalists are still human beings (well, until AI takes over the world), and there's a limit to how many articles they can churn out in a day or week.
Take, for instance, Labiotech.eu, where I hang my hat.
We get hit with a hundred press releases on average every single day.
Out of those, we'll only cover one.
Yep, you heard me right, a whopping 1%.
We're kind of a rare breed, though, focusing on long-form reporting.
But if you look at news-oriented outfits like Fierce Biotech or Endpoints News, their success rate is just as narrow.
They might churn out around 10-15 news pieces a day, but they've got a broader scope and a larger team.
Why Should You Even Bother with Press Coverage (and When Should You Avoid It)?
Before you dive headfirst into the press game, ask yourself, "What's my deal with press coverage?"
If your answer is simply, "Because that fancy PR agency told me so," well, you might be barking up the wrong tree.
Press coverage is an investment, and if your current stage doesn't require it, you're throwing good money out the window.
I've had several startup founders come knocking on my door recently, asking for help in landing press coverage.
But you know what?
I've turned most of them away, and here's why: they had nothing to show.
Instead of spending money on a PR guru, I told them to put their heads down and focus on product development.
Come back when you've got something real to market.
Another common misstep is thinking you're entitled to press coverage just because you're cooking up a “world-changing innovation.”
Newsflash: I get those kinds of pitches dozens of times a day.
And you know what?
Very few of them ever actually change the world.
So, park your ego, and think long and hard about the story you want to tell.
If it's all about showing off your latest protein screening gadget, you're in for a tough time unless you've got a damn good story to go along with it.
Why Grasping the Publication's Mission Is Crucial
You've got to wrap your head around this one: the mission of the publication matters, big time.
Let's take Labiotech as an example, 'cause it's the one I know best.
We're all about those long-form articles, the kind that takes some real digging.
To be the go-to place where biotech folks can start exploring any topic or get a feel for the industry's trends.
If someone wants to know about the latest CAR-T innovation, we've got them covered with our meaty articles.
But if you're after breaking news, this is the wrong place.
We need time to dive deep into our stories, so our publishing pace is a tad slower compared to news-centric outlets like Endpoints or Fierce Biotech.
So, the trick to pitching us is to bring a full-fledged story that captures the various elements forming a trend.
Simply telling us you scored a series A ain't gonna cut it.
But if you can pitch that series A as part of a larger industry shift, well, that's when you'll trigger our curiosity.
Oh, and don't forget about the target audience.
You've got three levels to consider:
- Niche: This is where it all starts. The publication's niche defines its core audience. It can be either pretty broad or super specific. The broader it is, the harder it is to get their attention, because you're competing with everyone else. On the flip side, if it's super specific, either you fit right in, or you don't. If you don't, don't even bother knocking on that door. For instance, if you've got a product unrelated to drug formulation, don't waste your time on a publication that's all about that
- Geography: This is your second layer to look at. Not all publications cover all parts of the globe. In Labiotech's early days, we focused solely on Europe. Yeah, it was tough having to pass up on some killer stories from other places, but it was our editorial choice. Going against that would have been against our values at the time.
- Distribution: Last but not least, think about how they get the word out. Is it in print, online, or (gasp!) some digital PDF that nobody ever reads? The distribution model says a lot about the publication's target audience. Print means an older, high-ranking crowd but a smaller readership. Knowing this can help you tailor your story better.
Figuring Out Whom to Pitch To
Different publications have different editorial teams with specific roles and sometimes even specialties.
For example, STAT News has a bunch of folks in Washington who eat, sleep, and breathe healthcare politics.
So, if you're pitching a story about some cool biotech thing happening in London, those folks won't give two hoots.
And here's the tricky part: every newsroom operates differently.
Some want everyone on the team to pitch stories, while others like to keep things compartmentalized.
But here's a little secret sauce for you: check out past articles that resemble your story and contact the person who wrote them.
They'll appreciate that you took the time to read their articles, and they'll already have a decent grasp of your field from their previous work.
So your pitch might land more easily with them.
Here's another tip for you: don't go guns blazing at the editor-in-chief, especially if you're dealing with a massive editorial team.
Those top dogs might be the head honchos, but guess what?
Everyone's trying to get their attention, so your chances are slimmer than a twig.
Your best bet is to aim a bit lower.
And guess who's often overlooked?
Most publications work with these independent wordsmiths, and they often get to pick their own stories.
They're less likely to be bombarded by pitches because of their freelance status.
What's cool is they often write for multiple outlets, so even if they turn down your pitch for one, they might see its potential for another.
Should You Hire a PR Firm?
If you're just starting out, and not really seeking a massive feature story, it's best to take a personal approach and reach out directly rather than relying on a Public Relations firm.
It’s just a matter of investment and your budget might be better invested in direct client outreach than in press coverage.
Now, as things get more serious and your life science company is gaining traction, consider the valuable role a PR agency can play.
Managing your own PR is no small feat, especially when you're juggling all the responsibilities that come with being a CEO.
Outsourcing this task can be a smart move.
However, whether or not you should hire a PR agency depends on your budget and expectations.
Many PR firms work with retainers, which means they're under pressure to deliver regularly.
In such cases, they often resort to churning out numerous press releases that end up in the abyss of news distribution services, hoping for a bite.
Frequently, they will tout a seemingly impressive result, like your press release appearing on BioSpace or, worse, Market Watch.
But the dirty little secret is that these websites are essentially content aggregators, grabbing press releases and publishing them as they are.
Personally, I find it to be a waste of money.
It’s for sure a nice backlink to your website, but there are cheaper ways to get the same result.
Yet, there's a silver lining in the PR world.
Some PR professionals are absolute gems.
They reach out to me personally with compelling stories that pique my interest.
They're also churning mundane press releases like everyone else, but they understand that only the crème de la crème will make the cut, and that's precisely what they aim for.
These PR virtuosos are worth their weight in gold for any biotech company seeking the spotlight.
Their ability to discern quality and target the right journalists is a game-changer.
When you're considering hiring a PR expert, make sure they are intimately familiar with the writers in the industry.
I'm not suggesting they need to be best buddies with them, but they should be ardent readers.
If they can effortlessly name a dozen journalists and describe their distinctive styles and approaches, don't hesitate to bring them on board.
These individuals possess the know-how to craft tailored pitches for each writer, ensuring your story gets the spotlight it deserves.
On the other hand, if they can't do this, consider it a warning sign.
Insider Hacks for Crafting the Perfect Pitch
Here are 5 hacks that I think will help you get your pitch further up the editorial ladder:
1/ Make It Personal
One of the biggest slip-ups I see is people thinking of a media outlet as one monolithic entity.
Media is a collection of individuals, each with their own quirks and passions when it comes to covering stuff.
The more personal you make your pitch, the higher your chances of breaking through and winning one of them over.
Sure, there might be a big shot who can veto stuff at the end of the line (I'm looking at you, Editor-in-Chief), but even they can be swayed by a passionate pitch from their reporters.
So, talk to the person you're pitching to, not the faceless entity.
2/ Give Them Context
Journalists are busy bees, and they can't possibly be experts in everything.
So, load up your pitch with context, data, and the bigger picture of your news.
This way, they can quickly grasp the significance and envision a killer article for their publication.
3/ No Phone Calls, Please
Here's another insider secret — journalists hate getting unsolicited phone calls from PR agencies.
If your pitch gets rejected, it's cool to follow up via email a few times, but after that, let it go and move on.
You'll have more news to share down the line, so don't treat this like a harassment opportunity.
4/ Nail the Email Subject
Journalists get bombarded with pitches every day, they don't have time to read every email.
So, your subject line is your ticket to their precious attention.
The pitches that catch my eye are the ones with a subject that's as catchy as a great article headline.
My brain rebels when I see a subject like "New pitch for you,” or worse, a line with “New Press Release” in it.
But if it sounds like a great article title, now you've got my attention.
I bet most journalists feel the same way because crafting killer headlines is what we do for a living.
5/ Build Trust with Editors
If you want something, you've got to give a little something back.
That might mean offering an exclusivity deal.
For example, if you've got an amazing story that multiple outlets would kill for, consider offering exclusive rights to your favorite editor.
Reach out, have a chat, and see what they think.
If they're in and you're offering them an exclusive, you'll have their ear next time you've got something to share.
They'll know you can bring them breaking news.
Knowing When to Quit
But hey, here's the truth that no PR person will ever spill: getting press coverage, and I mean really good press coverage, can be next to impossible for some companies.
I hate to break it to you, but some businesses just aren't glamorous enough to make it into the press.
Sure, there might be that tiny niche publication that's a perfect fit for you, but sometimes, it's better to settle for that and not chase after the big fish.
It all comes down to return on investment.
Trying to get featured by the major leagues might cost you a ton of time and a lot of money if you bring in a PR agency.
And the results?
Well, they might not be what you're dreaming of.
If your whole "coverage" thing is just to stroke your ego, you're better off buying a paid placement and calling it a day (check the publisher's website for sponsored article opportunities).
Think about what you could do with that money instead.
How about running some targeted ads directly at your ideal clients?
I'd bet you'd make more dough than getting covered in a half-decent article.
Remember, press coverage isn't just about inflating your ego or ticking a box because someone told you to.
It's about connecting with your target audience, spreading your vision, and sharing your unique story.
When done right, press coverage can be a valuable tool that not only attracts funding and clients but also solidifies your presence in the ever-evolving world of science.
So get ready and prepare your pitch accordingly.