Notes from Tech Writer Panel at Austin Startup Week

photoWe had a packed house – standing room only, in fact – at PR over Coffee’s Tech Writer Panel yesterday at the Capital Factory. After a few slices of pizza, we were ready to talk about the important questions of how to get tech writers to notice our startups and write about our respective up-and-coming innovations.

There were five outstanding tech writers on the panel:

  1. Josh Rubin: producer for CNN and the CNN Express Bus (a regular at SXSW)
  2. Omar Gallaga: Statesman tech culture reporter and creator of Digital Savant
  3. Laura Lorek: founder of Silicon Hills News, a digital daily digest of all things tech in Central Texas
  4. Tom Cheredar: lead media blogger for VentureBeat
  5. Stacey Higginbotham: blogger for GigaOm covering startups and all things Internet

For those who were not able to make it (or, worse, were turned away at the door), here are some of the highlights of the discussion topics by panelist:

Josh Rubin, producer for CNN & CNN Express:

  • All story ideas pitched to Josh need to be visual; he produces content for CNN so he’s not particularly interested in images of people working on computers; the more visually engaging the better
  • He also writes content for the CNN website; so, while not every pitch makes it to TV, other content can go directly to the CNN website
  • Josh produces content for a variety of outlets but business-oriented stories tend to get produced for CNNMoney; tech with a consumer slant stands a better chance of getting picked up for CNN
  • Josh looks for stories that address broader national trends
  • The best way to reach Josh is by email but don’t expect an email back every time you pitch him; he reserves that for people he knows
  • He’s currently producing a lot of coverage about tailgating for college football and spends up to 40% of his time on the road
  • Josh’s Twitter profile name is @CNNExpress

Omar Gallaga, reporter for the Austin American Statesman & blogger for DigitalSavant.com:

  • Most of his readers are over 55 (and like to “take naps”)
  • He covers tech in as much as it applies to culture and doesn’t cover B2B tech stories
  • He has a lot of latitude to write about topics
  • It’s best to read what Omar has written in the past to get an idea of the kinds of stories (and companies) he likes to write about
  • You can pitch Omar by phone but it’s a good idea to start with an email; he’ll usually respond back if he’s interested
  • Omar went to the SXSW V2V event in Vegas this year and says it is actually a better venue for startups than SXSW Interactive, which can be overwhelming for smaller startups; between the two events, he recommends V2V for small startups
  • You can send photos with your pitch but do so in a link as there are size limits on the files his email system will accept (1MB max, I think)
  • Omar’s Twitter profile name is @omarg

Laura Lorek, founder of Silicon Hills News:

  • Laura’s Silicon Hills News is a tech startup so she understands where other tech startups are coming from
  • Pitch her stories about companies that are from the Austin – San Antonio area; she’s not interested in news from other parts of Texas or out-of-state
  • Laura is excited about a particular story she’s writing concerning a company that is trying to aggregate 3D printers around the world into a single on-demand resource to drive innovation and illustrate the virtues of the “Collaborative Economy”
  • Laura is best reached by email
  • She doesn’t mind getting press releases but just make sure they are well written (i.e., get the point across without too much fluff)
  • Laura recommended using a PR firm or professional; although it’s not a requirement, it can certainly help ensure your value proposition is well documented and ready for a reporter’s scrutiny
  • Laura’s Twitter profile name is @siliconhillsnew

Tom Cheredar, lead media blogger for VentureBeat:

  • Tom covers a wide variety of topics including startups, new mobile and Internet apps, Big Data, hardware innovations, social media, etc.
  • Oh, he also likes to write the occasional fun story about space, Star Trek, comics and other off-beat topics
  • Tom almost never answers his phone so it’s best to pitch him by email
  • Tom actually keeps hours at Capital Factory every other Thursday to consult pro bono with startups about what stories would be interesting to tech writers like him – Nice!!
  • Tom doesn’t mind pitches directly from founders but generally speaking it’s better for them to listen to their PR firm’s advice as they have a lot of experience and tend to know what will appeal to reporters
  • Tom’s Twitter profile name is @tched

Stacey Higginbotham, blogger for GigaOm:

  • Best way to pitch Stacey is by email; she won’t take your phone pitches
  • Stacey does give preference to stories pitched by people she knows (in fact, most of the panelists do, out of courtesy) but if the story pitch doesn’t interest her your insider status won’t change anything; your rejection is just a little friendlier
  • Stacey does cover a lot of trending national stories in tech such as the Cloud, Big Data, broadband, etc.
  • When pitching Stacey, keep your pitch short and sweet; brevity counts for more than fluff
  • Don’t pitch her after you have had the same story written by another competing tech blog
  • Stacey sources a lot of her stories from Twitter as she follows a lot of smart techies and if they’re tweeting about the topic she knows it must be worth looking into
  • Stacey says a good PR firm is worth its weight in gold but in her opinion there are very few who do it really well
  • Stacey’s Twitter profile name is @gigastacey

Conclusion:

Don’t pitch these reporters without first doing your homework on what topics they have written about in the past, who their audience is and how they like to be contacted.

You can’t go wrong with an email pitch but don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back from them. Feel free to follow up with them if you don’t hear back within a few days but be careful not to contact them too many times or you risk getting relegated to the junk folder.

Pay attention to what they are tweeting as this is a great way to learn what kinds of topics interest them. Be careful not to tweet your pitches to them, although an occasional tweet about a client is certainly acceptable.

Look for more events like PR over Coffee featuring tech writers like these. It’s a great way to develop a relationship and possibly get your startup covered in the media.

Happy pitching!

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