A Selection of Startup Pitches With Flair

In my Startup PR courses on Skillshare and Udemy, I advocate using the Founder Institute’s recipe for the perfect one-sentence startup pitch (see video above), as pitching and messaging are usually issues for entrepreneurs or startup employees who may be more focused on product development, user acquisition, or a boat load of other tasks.

I’ve read some great startup pitches and some not-so-lovely pitches as well. It’s always a pleasure to work with startups eager to craft better pitches.

In January, I taught an online Skillshare class called “Getting Press on a Tight Budget.” After taking the course, students were asked to create press kits for their startups, making sure to include — at the very least — a one-sentence startup pitch and an email pitch written to me, a tech journalist. Below you’ll find some of the best pitches submitted, and in case you’re curious, you can find all of the projects on the class page.

One-Sentence Pitches

Let’s start with one-sentence pitches, the elevator pitch of email. Here are a few that stood out from the crowd:

  • Web Academy of Music is a video-based online music school that offers private lessons through video exchange to help busy people learn an instrument.
  • Meet Your Makers is developing a series of weekly markets and an accompanying website to help small creative businesses who engage in sustainable practices to gain main-stream exposure and increase direct sales.
  • UrbanSake.com offers a full service sake appreciation program that will help anyone discover and more fully enjoy Japanese sake using unique and fun in person and online sake tasting seminars.
  • Mewe is the first comparison site that helps purpose driven travelers find, book & rate their perfect voluntourism package and also enables them to crowdfund their selected cause.

These pitches are crisp and easy-to-understand — way better than the usual mumbo jumbo that reaches my inbox. And, I must say, Mewe accompanied its pitch with a delightful product video that showcased the team is serious and has a brilliant product idea. Furthermore, I’d recommend checking out UrbanSake’s email pitch, as founder Timothy Sullivan really understands the art of the personalized pitch.

Email Pitches

Check out the wrap-up and feedback session for my Skillshare class, which features the best one-sentence pitches and email pitches with in-depth reasoning behind their awesomeness.

When it comes to choosing the best email pitches from the course, I’d say UrbanSake and Mewe did a great job.

There were, however, two email pitches that caught my eye, and for two separate reasons:

  • Leaves of Trees, an all-natural skin care company, submitted an email pitch, that while a bit jargon-y at times, was well-targeted towards a writer who cared a lot about all-natural products (me). Though I don’t cover skin care, I appreciated the detail put into explaining just how special the process was. Furthermore, this email included beautiful product pictures, including a lip balm close-up, which amazingly, I’ve been looking for a new brand of all-natural lip balm. It’s like they knew!
  • Just BE Cause” is a “book anthology that features Ah-ha moments that inspire the next generation of change makers,” written by social entrepreneur Syreeta Gates. I was charmed by Syreeta’s pitch, because she showed true passion, included endorsements from recognizable leaders in education and entrepreneurship, and seemed to have a purpose behind her work. She made a few missteps, which I pointed out in the comments of her project. But, otherwise, I would read the book in a heartbeat.

Last, but not least, I can’t forget the most thorough press kit submitted — the Skillshare press kit, submitted by Skillshare’s awesome community manager, Danya Cheskis-Gold. Of course, I couldn’t choose Skillshare as the top project submitter in a Skillshare class! But, I wanted to give a shout-out, since this kit has everything a journalist could need: FAQs, class examples, logos, team bios, photos, videos, screenshots, demos, press clips, thought-leadership articles. It’s quite amazing and is a perfect example for the startup that wants to go all out on its press kit!

If you’re still craving press kits and email pitches, head on over to the Projects tab on my Skillshare class for all the pitches you could care for. Hours of fun and learning, guaranteed. Cheers!

How to Get Consumers Addicted to Your Content

Tara-Nicholle Nelson, vice president of digital and content at SutherlandGold Group, presenting at SXSW 2012

This post originally appeared on NASDAQ’s blog, where I contributed articles about content strategy during SXSW 2012.

Addiction is not a subject usually pegged to positive meaning – we usually speak about addition in reference to physical or psychological dependencies on a substance, person or object.

But addiction can have a positive meaning, too. Some of us get our fix with coffee; we all know someone addicted to Angry Birds, FarmVille or Words with Friends; and there are already some Pinterest nuts popping up all over the web.

There’s a synonym for these types of addictions, says Tara-Nicholle Nelson, vice president of digital and content at SutherlandGold Group, and that word is “love.”

For content addicts, this love is usually expressed by frequenting a small group of sites on a regular basis. Just think – are there any sites that you visit on a daily basis? What exactly is it about those sites that keeps you coming back?

Nelson says that brand publishers must understand what motivates consumers to consistently return to content sites, and then take those learnings to heart. Only then, will brands learn how to create addictive content.

Every brand goes through a process to becoming a brand that is loved by its consumers. That process entails reach, trial and stick. Once a brand has reached out to a consumer, that consumer must then try it out. If these two stages go as planned and the consumer keeps coming back for more, the brand has achieved “stick.”

There are three steps to generating “stickiness,” says Nelson, and some brands are already doing a great job at it.

1. Don’t Publish Information. Fuel Aspirations.

Brands must understand what their customers want to keep them happy. People want change more than ever, says Nelson. We want to be smarter, live cleaner, be more passionate, eat better foods, be more frugal. And we are more committed than ever to achieving our goals and dreams, she says.

To achieve our goals, we want knowledge. Brands can help us make our goal achievement smoother to achieve our aspirations, she says.

There is an opportunity, then, for brands to help consumers visualize, track and reach their goals. This can be as simple as creating content – how-tos, for example – to help consumers get what they want.

Or it can be as complicated as creating new products that help users track progress towards their goals. Products like Mint (personal finance tracking), Chartbeat (real-time blogging analytics) and The Eatery (healthful eating visualization) all do this.

2. Market Your Manifesto.

Brands should create manifestos that transcend the utility that the brand provides – they should take on topics that are bigger than their brands or the verticals that they work in, says Nelson.

Lululemon’s manifesto, for example, is all about a way of life that that has very little to do with yoga and exercise, its core areas of business. Instead, it’s all about life, love, relationships, health. Here’s an excerpt:

“Do one thing a day that scares you… Stress is related to 99% of all illness… Dance, sing, floss and travel… Sweat once a day to regenerate your skin… The pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness.”

Your manifesto may even become an integral part of your company’s revenue. Sound silly? Think again. Design company Holstee began offering up prints of its company manifesto (as pictured above) last year. The message went viral, and so far, the manifesto has been viewed online more than 50 million times and print sales accounted for 50% of the business’s revenue.

3. Double-down on Content Experiences.

Keep in mind that a consumer’s experience with your brand doesn’t end with a tweet or a visit to your website. Whenever possible, couple content with real experiences.

Lululemon, for example, hosts free yoga events in its store and even puts on an annual worldwide Salutation Nation yoga gathering, where yogis from all around the world gather at 9 a.m. their time to practice yoga together. Not only is Lululemon helping yogis improve their practices during the event, but it posts videos and pictures online afterwards for attendees to enjoy.

Likewise, a number of subscription-based mail services are cropping up, including poster child, Birchbox, a beauty-samples-by-mail company. Birchbox creates a content experience around the arrival of its latest beauty sampling in the mail. The Birchbox team creates video tutorials and how-to posts on how to best use the samples. And users even post their own reviews and how-tos across the Internet.

Birchbox also maintains a lifestyle-oriented blog and social media presence that follow topics that appeal to its audience. For example, the team put together a SXSW packing list chronicling the must-have items that they’d be bringing to the conference – great packing tips for fellow attendees.

Nelson’s tips are a great start towards creating a brand and content that people love. What are your tips for creating addicting content?

What Content Strategists Can Learn From the Movies

Content Strategist Carmen Hill presents at SXSW 2012

This post originally appeared on NASDAQ’s blog, where I contributed articles about content strategy during SXSW 2012.

What does content strategy have in common with the movies? At first glance, not much. Hollywood is all about red carpets, premieres and red carpets – and content strategy is about analyzing performance data and tweaking strategies to optimize success rates.

In her SXSW presentation, Social Media and Content Strategist Carmen Hill explained how content strategy and the movies are actually quite similar, though. In fact, she went as far as to say that content strategists could learn from Hollywood screenwriters by obeying the rules of the classic narrative arc.

Content marketers tend to focus on the sales funnel, a systematic approach to sell a product or service. The funnel illustrates a consumer’s path of discovery, consideration and decision-making in the buying process.

Instead, Hill says that content marketers should be thinking like screenwriters, taking consumers through the classic narrative arc, in which a story or movie incorporates the setup, a conflict and a resolution.

In these stories, there is always a hero, or protagonist to go on what is known as “the hero’s journey” through these three levels of storytelling. In “The Wizard of Oz,” for example, Dorothy is the hero. The setup is where all of the main characters of the movie are introduced. The conflict takes up the bulk of the story, and is invoked by a catalyst, or inciting incident. In this case, a tornado takes Dorothy’s house flying through the sky to Oz. Dorothy and her crew go on a mission to see out the Wizard of Oz during the conflict section of the movie. And finally, the resolution of the story comes when the hero saves the day – in this case, Dorothy discovers that she has had the power all along to return to Kansas, and everyone lives happily ever after.

So, where do customers come into play here? Customers are the heroes in the content strategy story. Hill explains that Hollywood heroes have a call to adventure, accept that call, seek knowledge, face their fears, overcome challenges and, in the end, become the masters of their worlds.

Consumers follow this same path, says Hill. They have a call to action when they discover that something is missing in life. They must then commit to making a change and research options, consuming content along the way. They face challenges, such as finances, in justifying and making their decisions. And finally, they acquire the good or service that helps them solve the problem, thus becoming the master of their world.

Brands, then, need to understand who their heroes are. They can figure this out through character development exercises. Much like a screenwriter spends time figuring out the personas behind his characters, a content strategist must figure out the persona behind his audience members. Are they decision-makers? Influencers? What do they care about? Where do they live?

Understanding the main characters of the story is a step in the right direction towards telling a provocative and meaningful story.

Just remember, unlike in the movies, the audience is in control of the story when it comes to your brand’s content. While content strategists may try to create the perfect script incorporating the narrative arc with absolute accuracy, the story will always be reshaped and influenced by its readers.

For your listening pleasure, here is a recording I took of Hill’s full presentation. Please ignore the typing noises — I was composing the outline for this post.🙂

How Should We Teach Tweens about Business & Finance?

For such a capitalist country, the United States does a horrible job of preparing its youth for the reality of life, where success is highly based on financial achievement.

My financial education was pretty much void until I hit college, and even then, it was my own decisions that made it possible, as I proactively chose to attend undergraduate business school at NYU Stern. I was raised in the deep South, where jobs were hard to come by and many struggled to provide the basics for their families.

The education systems in many of the Southern states — my home state of Arkansas included — are well below the national average, making matters worse. But even the best of the best in America can’t compete on a global scale. In a 2009 study, the U.S. ranked 25th out of 34 peer countries in math and science.

If we can’t even get the basics right, how are we going to teach our children how to properly manage their finances, create sustainable businesses and stay out of debt?

One of my former NYU professors, Orly Sade, recently teamed up with award-winning writer and former BusinessWeek editor Ellen Neuborne, to co-author a book for tweens (ages 9-12) about finance and entrepreneurship.

Entitled, “How Ella Grew an Electric Guitar: A Girl’s First Adventure in Business,” the book is written from the voice of Ella, a sixth grader on a mission to buy a new guitar, in hopes of upgrading her band’s status and becoming a rock star.

Along the way, Ella learns about key business concepts, such as market research, competitive analysis, word-of-mouth marketing, guerilla marketing, costs, revenue, profits, loss, leadership, partnerships… and the list goes on. She also learns about the many types of financial products, including stocks, bonds and loans.

The authors manage to explain difficult financial and business concepts in a way that makes them easy to understand. Many of the lessons originate from wisdom imparted by Ella’s parents, who work in business and law. Ella adds her own creativity to the lessons, and with the help of her friends and family, she’s on her way to owning a brand new electric guitar.

Reading the story, I couldn’t help but wonder how my life might have turned out differently if I had been aware of these business and financial concepts earlier on.

Yes, I was taught to budget and save, but that took the form of me putting money in a bank account and spending it when I had saved enough for the product I was saving for. I wasn’t aware of the other financial products I could have employed, and I certainly didn’t understand what a stock was, even in high school.

Our nation has racked up $15 trillion in debt — obviously our leadership isn’t doing much better than we are as individuals.

And so, community, it is up to us to arm the next generation with a financial education. Sharing books like “How Ella Grew an Electric Guitar” with tweens is a good start.

What ideas do you have for increasing our children’s financial proficiency level? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Top 5 PR Pitches That Rocked My Socks Off

Many of the pitches that I receive from PR professionals are irrelevant to my work, but every now and then, a gem of a pitch will surface in my inbox. Great PR people know how to put together a fitting pitch. Some of the essential elements of a great pitch include:

  • Relevancy: Nobody wants to read an email that doesn’t apply to them. Instead of sending blanket pitches to everyone in your address book, make an effort to understand the coverage area of each journalist you contact. That way, you’ll be more likely to strike a positive chord when you send out related news.
  • Succinctness: We’ve all heard of the elevator pitch. If you can sell your product or idea in just a few sentences, you’re armed to pitch it anywhere, even in only 15 seconds or so. Use that same philosophy with emails. Keep the pitch under three or four sentences, and you’ll save yourself and your reader a lot of time.
  • Directness: Assume that your reader knows nothing about the product or service you are pitching. Furthermore, explicitly state why the product is a fit for coverage on his or her site. When you clearly explain why his or her readers would be interested in the news, you make it easier tp visualize why it is (or isn’t) a fit.

Below are five examples of great pitches that I’ve received over the past year as a journalist at Mashable, a social and digital news site. The pitches are listed with the subject lines of the emails and include a few pointers about what made them so effective.

If you’re interested in what doesn’t work, check out my recent piece on the “Top 8 PR Pitch Phrases I Hate.”

1. I Loves Exclusives: “Exclusive for Tues – Social Breakup research”

The sexiest word in PR language is “exclusive.” When I receive an email with the word “exclusive” in the subject line, my eyes light up and I click with glee to see what could be in store for my next piece.

Not every “exclusive” pitch is a fit, but it is always impressive when a PR professional takes the time to choose one media outlet to give the honor of reporting first on a piece of news. My day gets a little brighter when I am the reporter on the other end of an exclusive pitch, whether it’s a fit or not.

Cybele Diamandopoulos of FOLIO Communications Group recently sent an exclusive pitch regarding a recent social media study. The pitch was actually addressed to another Mashable editor, but it was forwarded my way, as it was a better fit for my coverage area (business and marketing).

The pitch was a perfect fit for Mashable as it outlined the top reasons why consumers unsubscribe via email, Facebook and Twitter. Naturally, I read on.

Diamandopoulos’s email was enhanced by the fact that she outlined a few key findings from the research and noted that the full release would come packed with infographics, which would add visual appeal to the story.

Resulting piece:Top Reasons Why Consumers Unsubscribe Via E-Mail, Facebook & Twitter


When an exclusive on a story isn’t possible, the next best thing is an embargo.

A news embargo is a request from a source that a particular piece of news not be published until a certain date and time, or under certain specified circumstances. Embargoes enable a journalist to reduce reporting errors by giving him or her enough time to research a news item before the agreed upon publishing time.

The downside to an embargo is that other news outlets are also given the heads up on the news. On the positive side, though, if the embargo is kept by all outlets, no one has the advantage of “getting the scoop first.” Sadly, there are a number of media companies out there that don’t honor embargo times and decide to publish prior to agreed times. In a perfect world, that type of behavior would be punished by PR professionals, who would then withhold future news from perpetrators. It appears that PR pros aren’t cracking down the whip, though, as the same publications continue to break embargoes.

I always look forward to receiving pitches from Frank Filiatrault of Allison & Partners. I have never received a pitch from him that wasn’t a fit for our site. This is a huge accomplishment, as most of the pitches I receive are irrelevant to our site’s core topics.

Filiatrault usually sends embargoed press releases complete with related images and a personalized email about why he’s sending the news to Mashable.

When he pitched an embargoed piece about a recent partnership between Gowalla and Sundance, he included a bullet point list of the key details. When I took on the piece, he was quick to send along the full press release and answer all of my clarifying questions.

Resulting piece:Gowalla Teams Up With Sundance Film Festival

3. Readers Come First: “Lot18 Funding Announcement (w/ Mashable invites)”

Mashable readers are the most important factor in all decisions that I make when choosing stories, writing and editing. I constantly ask myself, “Is this what our readers want/need?”

As a result, it is imperative for PR professionals to directly call out why a particular story is of value to our publication’s readers. In some cases, that means simply stating why the story is a fit for our audience. In other cases, it can mean offering our readers a perk that they won’t find elsewhere.

When Snooth Media‘s Engagement Manager Jesse Chemtob pitched me on the launch of Lot18, a sample sale site for wine, he offered up 1,000 invitations for Mashable readers. Being that Lot18 is exclusive and requires that hopefuls be invited by existing members, Chemtob’s offer was a pretty sweet deal for our readers.

Even better, Chemtob’s email was a total of five sentences in length to make it easy to digest. He attached the press release for further details.

I was happy to write the piece, as it was a fit for our site and had added value for our readers. Apparently it was a hit — within a few hours, all 1,000 invites were gone.

Resulting piece:New Private Sale Site Targets Wine Enthusiasts [INVITES]

4. Multimedia Resources Appreciated: “eBay and Facebook collide for eBay Group Gifts!”

Stephanie Luu, formerly of Edelman Digital and currently with Ogilvy’s 360° Digital Influence Group, pitched me on the day that eBay’s Group Gifts product launched.

While the pitch wasn’t an exclusive or embargoed, it was relevant to Mashable‘s coverage and was very succinct. Luu explained the implications of the launch and outlined key details about the product, while also including a YouTube video which explained the product thoroughly. The video was a critical piece in answering some of the questions that I had about the product.

Extra resources, such as videos or product screenshots, are usually quite useful. I recommend sending them alongside a pitch, as long as they help showcase a product’s offerings and don’t clutter up the email.

Resulting piece:eBay + Paypal + Facebook Connect = Group Gift-Buying

5. Straight From the Source: “Mashable and Altimeter’s Upcoming Report”

In a four-sentence email, Altimeter Group‘s Industry Analyst Jeremiah Owyang piqued my interest in covering an upcoming report. His email began, “Are you interested in having a sneak preview of Altimeter’s next report (next week)? I’m open to letting Mashable have the exclusive if it makes sense.” The following two sentences explained the premise of the report. Easy peasy.

Key words: next report, sneak preview, exclusive

Not only was this a highly targeted exclusive pitch, but it came directly from Owyang, one of the analysts working on the report. Granted, not everyone has time to pitch his or her projects — that’s where PR professionals come in. But when an analyst has the time to contact a journalist directly, it makes communications easier, as there isn’t a middleman (or woman) to communicate through.

Owyang sent me the report in its drafted form and we set up an interview to go over any remaining questions I had. It’s as easy as that, folks.

Resulting piece:HOW TO: Optimize Your Social Media Budget


There are a lot of mediocre PR pros out there, but I’ve been lucky to work with a handful of talented individuals who truly do make my job easier. Their pitches are always targeted, succinct and clearly written.

The above five examples represent some of the best pitches I’ve received over the past year.

Let me know which pitching tips you’d add in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Sarah G…

Top 8 PR Pitch Phrases I Hate

As a writer, I’m blessed to have PR peeps contacting me 24-7 about the latest, greatest news. Quite frequently, however, their pitches are bland and unrelated to my work. Many of the pitches I receive fall under one of the following categories:

  • Irrelevant: Mashable is a tech and digital news site, why do I get pitched by health insurance providers and car dealers?
  • Poorly Written: Typos are passable (not really), but please do not ramble. It’s confusing. Get to the point.
  • Too Lengthy: If all pitches could be less than four sentences, the world would be a better (more productive) place.
  • Boring: ENTERTAIN ME, PEOPLE! I stare at two computer screens for a living. Give me some action; don’t put me to sleep.
  • Annoying: If your pitch sounds like this (“Buzz word. Buzz word. Buzz word. Buzz word.”), I will delete it immediately.

After nearly a year at Mashable, I’ve accumulated a hefty load of email and tweet pitches and have developed a keen hate for a few overused phrases. Please help out the world and never use the following phrases in pitches to your favorite reporters. (Note: actual examples included below.)

1. & 2. “Circle Back” / “Follow Up”

Example: “I wanted to circle back with you and see if you had a chance to review the details below regarding our latest initiative.”

When a PR rep emails a reporter and doesn’t get a timely response, usually he or she assumes the reporter’s “email may not be working” or that perhaps the “email was caught by spam.” Usually this isn’t the case. Most likely, the pitch was dry, confusing or lengthy, and the writer didn’t have time yet to contemplate what in the world the message was.

In any case, hasty reps usually resend the email, in an attempt to “circle back.” Circling back (or following up) usually entails back tracking, though. You’ve just put yourself on my “annoying” list, lady.

3. “Put Out Some Feelers”

Example: “Just putting out some feelers to see if you’re interested in covering our startup.”

Gag. Are you a lobster? An ant? A slug? Ick. Please keep your feelers to yourself, creeper. Feel free to get back to me when you’re a human again.

4. “Gauge/Re-Gauge Your Interest”

Example: “Following up with you regarding our email exchange below to re-gauge you’re interest in speaking with [Company X].”

Much like putting out those good ol’ feelers, PR professionals often like to “gauge” a reporter’s interest on a particular topic. If the reporter doesn’t happen to respond, a follow-up email may ensue, in which the PR rep attempts to “re-gauge” the writer’s interest.

Yes, we’re glad that you’ve got our best interests in mind, but if we were truly interested, we’d probably be knocking at your door first.

5., 6. & 7. “Industry Leading” / “Revolutionary” / “Groundbreaking”

Example: “Our startup is revolutionizing mobile video delivery to make it easy, fast and fun.” (From a little known startup that was founded in 2007.)

PR peeps love buzz words. “Hey! Let’s say our service is industry leading, revolutionary or groundbreaking! That will get ’em to write about us!”

No. No, it won’t. That will get us to promptly delete your email or respond with a short “not interested.”

It’s especially saddening when a pitch is full of typos or requires me to read it thrice in order to understand it. Here’s one I received last winter: “This new line of Batteries are revolutionary that provide an opportunity for retailers to offer strong green stories and for consumers to do their part to help the environment without taxing their wallets to do so.” Yikes.

8. “Did you get my email?” / “I noticed you didn’t respond.”

Example: “How have you been? Did you get my email? I can resend it.”

If all other tactics fail, the average PR professional has one last option: resending… over. and. over. again. Usually, this method is accompanied by some amendment that asks if the reporter has received the email. Then, the PR rep tries to figure out what might have happened during the transmission process. Here are a few common excuses that PR pros use for resending pitches:

  • The PR rep fears that the reporter’s email provider might not be working correctly.
  • His or her crappy pitch might have fallen into the spam filter.
  • The reporter may have been too busy to read it, so they wanted to “put it back on her radar.”
  • The reporter might have accidentally deleted the email.

Message to all PR folks: email works. And when it doesn’t work, the email provider usually sends a message explaining the delivery error. It’s not the email provider, it’s you.


If you work in public relations, it a good idea not to completely annoy the reporters you work with. Try to limit the PR jargon and just be a human.

For some additional tips on pitching tech reporters in particular, check out this video from a panel I spoke on last winter about “Demystifying PR for Startups: Identifying Your Target Message and Your Reporter.”

Readers, let me know which PR pitch phrases you hate in the comments below!

Photos courtesy of Kalexanderson, Jenny Downing & Kevin H.

My Custom TOMS Shoes

TOMS Shoes hosted a “Style Your Sole Party” at the 2010 Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Summit in Las Vegas last week. At the party, conference attendees received a free pair of TOMS Shoes to decorate with whatever they’d like. Some of the supplies included stamps, spray paint, gem stones and markers.

With the help of Brian Dresher, Mike Blumenstein and Mike Jensen, I created a lovely pair of red TOMS with white polka dots. The methodology was all Blumenstein’s idea: glue gem stones on the shoes, spray paint them red, and then remove the gem stones. It worked!

I debuted my new creations to the world the following day during the WOMMA panel that I spoke on. Check out a summary of the panel here. And look at my shoes in action below!

Image courtesy of WOMMA and copyrighted by Gary Michael

What may be even more exciting, though, is the fact that the live graphic artist drew them in her depiction of the panel that day, as pictured below. Isn’t that lovely?