Should I email them, call them, reach them via Twitter? Even if I understand what they cover and explain how my startup matches what they cover, how can I get them to really listen? I am convinced they will like the startup, as it is different and awesome. Are services like PR web or Pitch Pigeon useful or a waste of time?
I have used PR agencies and other third party services for my startups in the past. In my experience there is nothing like the founder getting in touch with a journalist directly and 'selling' their product/service with their own passion.
PRWeb has done little for me in the past Pitch Pigeon is nothing more than a quick way of emailing a wide variety of blogs, who may be wrong for your product and the email might not get to the right person. It's to scatter gun.
This is what I would do:
1. make sure you have a story people can write about, a launch is usually not enough, some types of sites are interested in close fundraising (like tech crunch).
2. ensure you have the story down as easy to digest bullet points, as well as a standard press release (in case they ask for it) and a press pack.
3. make a list of all the publications / websites you want to feature in
4. find out the names and email addresses, twitter handles of each of the relevant journalists (look for people who have written about competitors or similar products)
5. If possible get the phone number of the journalist.
6. In my experience NOTHING beats calling up the journalist yourself, they're far more likely to listen to you if you call them than if you email/tweet them
7. See if you have any mutual contacts on LinkedIn or other networks, if so get introductions.
8. Otherwise, call if you can't call, email and tweet.
Happy to give you more specific help, ideas and support on a call.
BTW, I recently got coverage in two national newspapers for my own startup.
Sign up for all of their newsletters then respond with your brief pitch. Many are do-not-respond emails, but you will be suppressed at how many are not. Secondly, type in words related to your product and put the name of the newspaper, media that you want behind it in the search. For example, (type of product) WSJ. Then contact the writer who wrote a similar story as yours. Their email address will usually be at the bottom of the article. I have been featured in NYT, WSJ, ABC News and other media by doing this.
Best of Luck,
From the Trenches to the Towers Marketing
The art of pitching and approaching journalists and media is about adding value to their lives and about building a relationship with them. I'm a veteran PR and one of our agencies core services is PR for start-ups. We have placed our clients in NY Times, Sunday Times (UK), Yahoo and thousands of other major media publications. Calling a journalist or meeting with them in real life is the best way to get them to 'listen' but sometimes that's not possible. If you're a complete stranger to them start by reaching out via Twitter and see if you can get a conversation going. When you're ready to pitch think very carefully about what makes your company newsworthy. If you don't know what is newsworthy start reading all the outlets that you'd like to be featured in. Pitches and outreach should be 100% personalized. Don't go for the spray and pray (send out a release and hope someone picks it up) that rarely leads to any results. Your first communication to a journalist or writer should be extremely succinct - a few lines at best. Brevity and a great email subject line are the key to getting them to open an email. Don't think about how awesome your start-up is instead think about how you can become an SME for them and someone they trust and can come to. Their job is not to promote your business, their job is to write compelling news stories. I can't speak to PR web or Pitch Pigeon because we don't use services like that. We work to create relationships with media so they come to trust us and come to us for tips and sources. It's a tricky thing and tough if you're just starting out, though not impossible. If you have a great company and some success under you belt you can definitely pitch yourself to relevant journalists. Create a good list and start pitching! In our office we have a saying, 'Clarity through action.' You'll have no idea if they care to listen or if what you have is newsworthy until you start diving down the rabbit hole of pitching them. If you get a reply and it's a no make sure you ask for feedback. It's always good to know what they're working on or why your story may or may not be a fit. Good luck! If you've got further questions I'm happy to hop on a call about it all.