How to Pitch Your Startup to an AI Journalist

You’ve brought your team together, built a product you believe in, and spent countless hours massaging your message in accelerators, meetups, and VC pitches. Now you have to tell the world about your hard work. It’s time to pitch AI journalists. I do not envy you.

A day in the life

I just saw your recent marketing email about your AI startup called (company name). And I think you would be the perfect person to read this article (person’s name)!

Here at Neural we have invented a new technology that will revolutionize everything! Can I schedule a 45 minute interview with a C-suite executive who is not specialized in the subject? Is today good for you? Why don’t you respond? Let’s go ahead and make a call so we can discuss why you should call us. No? Fine. This is the last time I mention it. Your loss.

make it stop

Greetings, Humanoids

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The paragraphs above show how most of the emails I receive from AI startups are read. They are mostly meaningless, almost always a little desperate, and at least half of them contain casual mistakes.

I’m an AI journalist and the editor here at Neural, TNW’s futurism and AI vertical. I usually receive somewhere between 25-50 pitches per day, the vast majority of which come from AI startups. And most are bad.

I try not to be turned off by a crappy pitch. For example, if you’re a startup using AI to find homes for orphaned puppies, I won’t let marketing hyperbole or a bad pitch get in the way of a good story.

And I’m not here to eat your lunch because of minor mistakes like misspelling my name (which happens about 10% of the time, despite the fact that it’s literally in my email address). I don’t use the ‘delete’ key when someone forgets to fill in the blanks on their form email. Pobody is defective, right?

No, the issues I’m talking about go much deeper than just an “oops, I missed that” here and there.

I am not a VC

The vast majority of pitches I get from AI startups are funding announcements. There are countless outlets and journalists covering startup financing and securing funds is quite a big deal for a startup.

But I don’t really care. And in this particular context, that’s a you issue. You wouldn’t pitch the editor of Scientific American a fictional slice of life story about baseball. Some stories just don’t make sense to some outlets.

That is not the only problem, however. Selling a VC on your startup involves an entirely different method than pitching a journo.

VCs want to be convinced of something you can’t possibly know (how successful your business will be in the future). Journalists usually just want to know which facts about your company are most interesting.

That’s why it makes sense to talk about forecasting, market research, and what your competitors are doing when you’re trying to gain support. For journalists who don’t specifically deal with startups and financing, your business plan may not be all that useful.

Instead, I recommend ditching your VC pitch deck and getting into a writer’s headroom.

Imagine your startup is a book and you try to write the blurb on the back cover. Are you going to fill the room with statistics about how important your book is, how much you get paid to write it, and how well the experts predict it will do?

The tried and true formula is to describe the contents of the book and explain what a reader can hope to gain from reading it.

Know who you are pitching

You could pitch 500 journalists at once. It would be impossible for you to research them all – even the most prestigious professional agencies can’t get it right every time.

But you should definitely have a list of specific outlets that you most want to be covered by. And you can greatly increase your chances of being covered by a particular outlet by tailoring your pitch to its work.

For example, here at Neural, we cover “human-centered AI advancement and futurism.” Your best bet for securing coverage here is to keep that in mind.

It’s also important to remember that there is a difference between pitching AI to a regular journalist and someone who specifically covers AI/ML.

Anyone who has been involved with AI for quite some time, for example, has heard every possible hyperbolic joke about AI taking over you can think of.

I’m much more likely to open an email if the first sentence example tells me what the company is doing than I am if it’s just something about how “We all know movies like the Matrix aren’t real, but what if you could actually be friends with the Terminator?”

And for the same reason, it’s almost always a bad idea to start an email with “I really enjoyed your article about” artificial intelligence† Not only is it usually obvious that you haven’t actually read our work, but about one in five emails I receive starts with a variation of that line — using this one will help keep yours from standing out.

The best thing you can do is be honest about what your business does, how it’s going to do it, and why it matters.

Not BS a BS guy

Most AI journalists don’t care how deeply you believe the innovations you develop will amplify your customer’s upside potential.

And those of us who are good at our job can tell the difference between super-scientific-sounding nonsense and something that shows real innovation.

At least once or twice a day, I stop halfway through reading a pitch out of sheer frustration. If I’ve just read 350 words and I still have no clue what I’m getting, that’s probably a bad sign. Cut to the chase.

The best practice I can recommend here is to make sure the person sending the emails knows exactly what they are talking about.

And pitching AI journalists means you need to be able to explain the most basic concepts surrounding your company’s use of AI.

That almost never happens.

I’m literally asking for a simple explanation. Something like, “our company uses reinforcement learning and forecasting algorithms to analyze historical data on parking violations,” or “we build algorithms that interpret sensor data for waste management facilities.”

What I usually get is something more along the lines of “Nowadays we all know AI can write poetry. But that won’t help you on a hot New York day when you’re stuck in traffic! Meet Peter the Parking Buddy, your personal robot friend’ or ‘our problem-solving technology gives entire cities the power of the human brain’.

Those last two are worthless to me. They don’t contain any real information and, worse, they just blend into all the other emails I get and also don’t contain useful information at a glance as I scroll through my inbox.

As a journalist, I know that the headline of this article will do more to get people to read it than the nearly 1,300 words that follow. As a person who emails a journalist, you should know that the subject line and sample sentences (usually the first one or two sentences in the body of your email) are the main determinant of how much attention your pitch gets relative to others.

Again, this advice is specific to journalists who specialize in covering AI. When it comes to the mainstream media, all bets are off.

I cannot guarantee that following these tips will get you the attention you deserve from AI journalists. But it’s probably a good start to make it easier for us to understand what’s really interesting about your business.

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