Startup community news from Houston, Texas, USA

How to Talk to a Houston Reporter

How to Talk to a Houston Reporter

I hear a lot of early-stage startups complaining that they struggle for media coverage. They can’t understand why their great idea or their new product launch isn’t news. I’ve had several conversations where people say that Houston media just “doesn’t get it” and only cares about oil and gas.

But I don’t think that’s true. I’ve met a lot of reporters here in town. They write good stories, and they write a LOT of stories. So I emailed them and asked their opinion about startups earning media coverage. Here’s what they had to say:

Angela Shah, Editor of Xconomy

For Xconomy, the top two issues I consider is, 1) is this business truly innovating in their sector? and 2) is it commercially viable.

This means that the startups that we write about need to make a clear case of their innovation, whether it’s in business processes or as a consumer need. And also, that they are getting traction with investors — people who are putting money on the line to help the founders make the company a reality.

Be prepared to explain how your company is different from/better than competitors and why, your upcoming challenges, and your plan for funding, marketing, and production down the road. I’ll want to know, of course, about the backstory, who you are and how inspiration first struck you, and how any previous entrepreneurial experiences are shaping how you build this particular company.

Joe Martin, Tech and Healthcare at Houston Business Journal

For me, the best way to get in touch is through email. I like this, because I have my email synced through all my devices, and can check them wherever I am. Every reporter is different, so in that first or second conversation, just ask ‘hey how do you prefer I reach out to you?’ That way, when someone doesn’t answer a voicemail for a couple of days, you know why. If it’s something big, I’ll usually send an email for a date to chat, or call you right away, so make sure your phone number is on there to reach out.

In press releases, the most important thing is to put the big news in the subject or the first or second sentence. This sounds very remedial, but you’d be surprised at some that come through my inbox. When I am reading them, I’m reading them for the hard quick news (someone died, new building, merger, buy out etc.) and then if it’s not that, scan over it to see if it’s interesting or tied to something I’m working on. The longer you expect me to read to find that, the less likely I am to see it. I read and respond to a couple hundred emails a day, not to mention tweets, texts, IMs and whatever else comes across my desktop. Sometimes things get lost in the shuffle, so if you don’t hear from me in a day or so, follow up. It can be a forwarded email, or a new one, but just shoot me a message and say “Hey did you see this?” I do miss things sometimes, so it’s important to reach out at least once. However, don’t bombard a reporter with follow-ups (new news is usually OK, even if it’s small). Give us a day at least before you start back on us.

If I do take a pass on the story, don’t take offense. I love continued dialogue with people in the industries I cover, because then I feel like I know what’s going on, and it builds relationships. Keep in contact with me through Twitter, email, whatever and fill me in on what you’re doing or just to chat. Maybe down the road, there’s something there.

Purva Patel, Houston Chronicle

The main factors I looked for in a story were newsworthiness, timeliness and significance. To look for this, I usually asked myself, “Why would our readers care?” For tech stories, I was usually looking for whether the technology did something useful and interesting that impacted the reader, either directly or indirectly. Of course a human interest factor that was really intriguing trumped everything else.

I found it easiest to write about tech companies who were responsive to tight deadlines, accessible when my editor was editing the story and had questions I couldn’t answer myself, and spoke in as little industry jargon as possible or were at least willing to take the time to explain their product in laymen’s terms. I often ask sources to “explain this in a way my mom could understand it.”

Are you a reporter covering startups in Houston? Let me know and we’ll add your quote to this blog.