Case Study: How To Get Your Story Featured In Entrepreneur Magazine (With Proof And Examples)
In the January edition of Entrepreneur Magazine, there’s a story titled “Would You Open Your Books?” (p 20). I pitched that story to the editor six months prior.
My first pitch to him failed. The second one got featured in the magazine. This article shares why my second pitch got featured while the first flopped.
If you are an entrepreneur, a PR person, or a growth hacker looking to get the attention of press, this article explains what you need to know to get your story featured by media outlets.
“How do I get your attention to get a story featured in Entrepreneur Magazine?”
I was sitting at a large conference table with nine other people. To my left was Jason Feifer, Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur Magazine.
We were at two.12, a small event in Boulder, (which turned out to be my favorite event of 2016.)
Jason was the star of this breakout session. Essentially, if anyone knows about media, it’s him. He has worked for The NY Times, Washington Post, GQ, Slate, ESPN, and more. And now as the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur, he’s responsible for selecting the stories that ‘make the cut’ into the magazine each month.
One feature in his magazine could be worth tens of thousands of dollars to a company. So every day he fields hundreds of spammy cold emails from overly-ambitious entrepreneurs, startups, and PR companies all trying to steal his attention and get a featured article.
(Thank God I’m not an editor.)
Like any ambitious entrepreneur, I wanted to know how this PR game actually works…
We were gathered around him at the conference table like children at a campfire, waiting to hear his sage wisdom, his stories, and his ideas on doing PR right.
“There are two approaches that never work for getting press.
The first strategy everybody tries and it always fails… assigning your PR role to an intern. Entrepreneurs do this because they don’t have a clue how to pitch media and they think and intern can figure it out. This is the worst. Don’t waste your time or energy with this approach.
The second strategy that never works: hiring a PR company to send an email blast to 100+ different media outlets at once. I can sense when its an intern pitching or when a PR company sent an email to me and countless other media outlets and I immediately delete any emails like this.”
“The one thing everybody tries and it never works… assigning your PR role to an Intern.”
“The problem is, people don’t think like an editor. They’re stuck thinking about their own business. The truth is, we’re not interested in your business. We’re interested in stories that captivate people. We’re interested in covering what’s new, hot, and story-worthy.
The more you can start thinking like an editor and tie your story into a current trend or something fascinating already happening in the market, the more likely you are to get my attention.
Don’t pitch us on your business, pitch on something bigger that’s happening in the world. Then show us how you fit into it.”
That was when it ‘clicked’ for me. I always thought about my business first and the ‘story’ second.
I’d focus on what I wanted to highlight in my business and tried to make a story around that. Jason was saying to do the opposite…
Lesson One: Discover ‘the story’ happening in the world first. Then decide how your business fits into it.
This concept was the reason my second pitched got featured (more on that in a sec). But I still wanted more…
What I Learned About Cold Pitches From Scrolling Through The Inbox Of The Editor Of Entrepreneur Magazine
I was impressed with Jason’s insight. But it didn’t give me the answer I was looking for.
I still wanted to know how to get the attention of an editor as busy as him. So I pressed a little more…
“I’m curious what email subject lines you open versus ones you immediately delete.
Would you open your phone and read us some of the subject lines you’ve read in the past 24 hours so I can hear which ones you opened and which ones you immediately deleted?”
The room became charged with anticipation. The greedy marketers were salivating at the prospect of learning what subject lines actually captivate someone as busy as Jason.
He pulled out his phone and started scrolling.
“Ahh – here are some bad ones.”
And he rattled off a list of examples of people writing blanketed “press releases” that follow a format similar to “New Startup Announces <Insert Boring Idea Here>.”
“Anything like that immediately gets deleted. Sometimes I don’t even finish reading the whole subject line.”
Then he showed a few of the emails he did open…
Almost all of them were written directly to him. No mass email list. No vague subject line.
They were written specifically and directly to him. Anything else was deleted… almost immediately.
Think about it: Imagine getting literally hundreds of emails clouding your inbox every single day all from people who want something from you. He HAS to filter quickly for what’s personal.
(How Jason doesn’t hate people at this point is beyond me.)
But here’s what fascinated me even more…
In one email, a person wrote a sincere personal pitch and asked for feedback because he wasn’t getting results.
It was a simple sentence that said something like, “And if this pitch isn’t a fit, would you mind giving me feedback on how I could improve it or make it better for the Entrepreneur audience?”
Jason showed us how he responded by giving the guy some advice. I was completely blown away by that…
First, by his generosity. And second, by the psychology of how I could use this as a strategy.
If you send a truly personal pitch and include some sort of PS asking for feedback, you’ll likely increase your odds of getting a response. And they might tell you exactly what you need to say for your next pitch to land.
Again… Genius. This session was really paying off.
But what’s even better is what Jason shared next.
As he scrolled through his emails, he read one subject line, opened it, and said, “Oh – yeah. I’ll almost always open an email with this subject line.”
“Oh – yeah. I’ll almost always open an email with this subject line.”
“Subject: Met you at ____”
It was an email from someone who met Jason at a conference a few years back. He was following up and sharing a pitch that was relevant now.
Jason treats his personal network and contacts with an incredible amount of respect, so he always wants to respond to people he’s met in person. That’s why this subject line works almost every time.
File that away in your memory bank for future emails.
(And notice how I used that subject in the screenshots below.)
How I Bombed My First Pitch (And What I Changed To Make Pitch #2 A Winner)
We finished our hourlong breakout session, and as we were shuffling out of the room, I tried to soft-pitch Jason.
“I run a company called The Foundation, we help entrepreneurs get started in business. We’ve had all sorts of businesses be spawned from our little accelerator and many people have quit their jobs, are traveling the world, and are doing work they love now.
One is making six figures from proofreading. Another is helping authors publish books. Another is making $25K/mo selling chocolate covered bacon. Would any of these stories be a fit?”
Last year I made friends with a writer at Business Insider who featured a handful of our Foundation students in articles using this same angle. I thought it’d work for Entrepreneur, too.
“Eh – I don’t really see anything there. Those stories are happening all the time right now. There’s not much of a story there.”
I felt like an idiot. He just spent an hour teaching me EXACTLY how to pitch him… and there wasn’t the slightest bit of curiosity about my pitch. #fail
Didn’t I learn anything?
I spent the next few hours going over my notes and brainstorming different ideas and angles. If I couldn’t successfully make a pitch to Jason in person, how could I possibly succeed over email?
I finally thought of a story worth pitching and, before the final keynote of the day, I noticed Jason sitting at a table.
Thinking about my last embarrassing pitch, I swallowed my pride and approached him…
“Hey Jason – I’ve been thinking about your session and I think I’ve got another story for you. Interested in hearing a quick 30-second pitch?”
“Are you familiar with ‘open book management’?”
“Kind of… but tell me more.”
“’Open books’ is a management philosophy where you share your revenue and expenses with your employees so everyone knows how much money is coming in and out of the business. Less than 5% of companies are open books, but the ones that are consistently tend to perform better. And, as the world trends towards more transparency, we’re seeing more businesses use this like Buffer, ConvertKit, Smart Passive Income, Entrepreneur On Fire, Groove and more.
All these entrepreneurs are sharing their books publicly with the world so everyone knows what’s happening.”
“Hmm… That’s interesting. Here’s my email. Would you mind following up with me after this event and sharing this over email?”
Notice the difference in my pitches?
The first pitch still focused on my company. Not the overall trends in business.
The second pitch, I focused on a trend already happening among many companies. And I shared how I fit into that trend.
That made all the difference. But it didn’t seal the deal.
After I got Jason’s attention and permission to follow up, the follow up began.
Notice the subject line?
As expected, it got a quick response.
I ended up in a private Facebook group with Jason for the 212 alumni. He asked for feedback on cover variations of Entrepreneur magazine. After sharing my thoughts, it gave me the perfect window to ask for a quick follow up.
A few weeks later, a reporter reached out to me. We scheduled a Skype call and he grilled me with questions and asked for introductions to other businesses.
Clint and I hopped on Skype and I told him everything I knew about open books, who was doing it and how he could learn more.
A few months later, the story ran in Entrepreneur Magazine.
There you have it.
From nothing. To bombing a pitch. To getting his attention. Following up. Getting interviewed. And watching the story go live.
When I reflect back on this whole process, there are five rules I learned to remember anytime I pitch stories to media in the future…
Five Rules To Remember Before You Pitch A Journalist Anything
1) Think Like An Editor And Pitch “The Story” Before Pitching Your Business – No editor cares about you, or your business, or your next big idea. They care about stories that captivate, entertain, and show trends. Don’t focus on pitching your business. Focus on pitching trends that are happening in the world and then show how your business fits into that trend.
2) Know The Values Of The Publication – Different publications value different things. Business Insider ran features on our students because they valued running a series of articles about entrepreneurs who quit their job to travel the world and are making money following ideas they love. Our stories were a perfect fit for Business Insider. But that idea didn’t fly with Entrepreneur. Know your audience. Know what they value by studying the types of articles that get the most traction on their site.
3) Write Emails Specifically To Each Journalist – If you write one email to multiple people, you have a VERY small chance of getting any response. This isn’t the place to try ‘the shotgun approach.’ Instead, be a sniper. Focus on a smaller group of people but laser in your messages so they’re personal and entertaining. The more personal, and the more you can show you’ve done your research by knowing what stories click with their audience, the more likely you’ll get a response.
4) Always Follow Up – 90% of people never actually follow up and almost always lose opportunities because of it. People are busy. Ideas slip through the cracks. Following up is useful to a busy person. I love it when people circle back with me. Especially if I asked them to. I followed up with Jason three times over a period of months before the article went live. Be patient. But always follow up.
5) If Your Pitch Isn’t Working, Genuinely Ask For Feedback – If you’re trying your pitch and getting nowhere, ask for feedback. Ask people how you can make the pitch better or what would be more aligned with their audience. This doesn’t work if you’re blasting the world with spam messages. But if do your research, write personal emails, and still get no response, try sending a follow up and asking why not. You might be surprised at how generous people are with their thoughts.
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