Today’s guest on Coffee with a Journalist is Ben Bergman from Insider. Ben is a senior correspondent at Insider covering venture capital and startups. Click below to follow Ben Bergman on Twitter and LinkedIn.
During the episode, Ben talks about why he’s working with familiar sources, the correlation between subject lines and headlines, advice for tying your pitch to recent stories, and more.
Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
His Inbox & Pitches
[00:03:47] B. BAMBERGER: This is the guy. This is a guy. Okay, Ben, your inbox, how crazy is it in there?
[00:03:53] B. BERGMAN: I’m scared to look, but I have to every morning, of course, and I look at it. But, yeah, it’s a scary thing because there’s just a ton of inbound, as they say, that comes in. I have to look at it all because there’s things that come in that are not just spam but are really important to look at. Then there’s, as you might expect, a ton of pitches.
[00:04:16] B. BAMBERGER: Yes. So how many pitches are we talking a day?
[00:04:18] B. BERGMAN: I would say I probably get about 50 pitches a day.
[00:04:23] B. BAMBERGER: Oh, only 50. I don’t think that’s that horrible. I’ve heard worse. Okay, 50. But like 50 legit pitches or 50 – Some including spray and pray ones.
“We’re trying to appeal to readers who are smart people, who are interested in what’s going on inside startups and tech companies, but also employees inside the companies themselves, and also the investors and the founders and executives.”
[00:04:32] B. BERGMAN: I think a lot of those are spray and pray.
[00:04:35] B. BAMBERGER: Oh, interesting. Okay.
[00:04:36] B. BERGMAN: Maybe I’ve like filtered out the other ones by now. But, yeah, it’s probably – Then maybe like 20 that are more like actually really targeted to me and what I do.
[00:04:47] B. BAMBERGER: That’s kind of a low percentage. Not good. What do you do with the pitches that are like, okay, not a fit? Do you just delete?
[00:04:54] B. BERGMAN: Yeah. I delete them or just go on to the next one. I mean, I try to like, when I wake up in the morning, very quick – Because that’s when most of the stuff comes in, especially since I’m on the West Coast. But I very quickly go through everything and, honestly, a lot of times will like not even make it past like the subject head because a lot of the stuff I get isn’t relevant to what I cover. So I can pretty quickly dispense with that.
We have a pretty narrow focus here, and one of the overriding things about what I do and a lot of us do at Insider is everything I do is behind the pay wall. So it has to be something that people can’t get anywhere else.We have to have a very clear idea about what our readers are interested in. So we don’t do a lot of the other stuff I think publications do because we know our readers just aren’t into that.
His Thoughts on Subject Lines
[00:06:34] B. BAMBERGER: What are some of the best subject lines you received like even today or that stand out in your memory?
[00:06:44] B. BERGMAN: Yeah. Well, I think, first of all, I mean, it’s, in some ways, not about the subject line. But I was trying to think about like I almost never do like fundraising stories. But I’ve done two in the past two weeks or even this week. I had one today, and I think that was because I had a relationship with the people and like you. I know them, and they’ve been helpful, and I know that they send me stuff that is good and that is more targeted. So that’s a lot of it. It’s like, “Oh, I know this person,” and it’s a specific reason why I’m doing it.
“So if I see like a pitch that has like something that I would see as a good headline for us, then I’m going to be a lot more likely to read that.”
But I think the best pitches, as you notice, like we’re very into the headlines here. When we’re pitching stories internally, a lot of it is like, “Okay, just write me the headline.” Because if you don’t have a good headline and you can’t sell your story in a headline, then you probably don’t have a good story. So if I see like a pitch that has like something that I would see as a good headline for us, then I’m going to be a lot more likely to read that.
[00:07:52] B. BAMBERGER: So write your subject line like the headline.
[00:07:54] B. BERGMAN: Yes, yes.
His Pitching Preferences
[00:07:55] B. BAMBERGER: Yeah. Interesting approach. Okay. Are there three aspects you love or want to see in every pitch, Ben?
[00:08:04] B. BERGMAN: Yeah. I mean, I would say the main things to include are why it’s important and also like who we can talk to. A lot of times, people will be like, “Okay. Like this company that Jason Calacanis backed raised such and such.” I’m like, “Okay, great. Well, can I talk to Jason?” They’re like, “Oh, no. He’s not actually available.” So I want to know like who’s behind it but also like who they’re offering and what’s available.
Then also, want to know like the timing, like when is this happening, and as much like numbers and information about – Because I’m writing about deals a lot of times, so want to have like that as – But the numbers aren’t enough. There has to be, for us, like an interesting and compelling story there that’s not going to be told elsewhere.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT, WHO CAN HE TALK TO, AND WHAT’S THE TIMING.
[00:08:55] B. BAMBERGER: Okay. What else in the pitch, if ideally? Any like bonus like, “Ooh. When I see a pitch and it links the presskit.” It really wins you over.
[00:09:05] B. BERGMAN: Well, I think it’s like when people are like, “Oh. Well, you’ve reported on –” They can pretty easily see what I’ve done because everything is on my author page, and I tweet every story. So hopefully, you have like – It’s helpful, I think, if you have a sense of like what kind of stories I can do and if you can genuinely say, “Okay, I saw you did this story about like employees being shortchanged on their startup options. Here’s like another twist on that.” Or, “I saw a story about like zombie VC funds. Here’s a new take on that or someone else you should talk to.” I think that’s always like very helpful.
A lot of times, people try to do that, and it doesn’t actually have any connection to stories I’ve done, and they’ll be like, “I saw you did this story on VC funds drying up. Here’s a story about a SaaS company raising $12 million.” It doesn’t really connect, and we can like pretty easily see through that. I appreciate the attempt. But if you can actually like tie it to like stories we’ve done, I think that’s very helpful.
His Thoughts on Exclusives & Embargoes
[00:10:38] B. BAMBERGER: Ben, you do have some stories on here that are exclusives. So I believe you do like exclusives, but tell us about your preference for exclusives versus embargoes or whatnot.
[00:10:50] B. BERGMAN: Well, yeah. I mean, it’s a funny thing because, yeah, I mean, if we’re going to do fundraising, which we don’t do very much, just because, as I said, we’re very metrics-driven, and we can see our readers are not really interested in that. But if we do it, it definitely has to be an exclusive, so we’re not really going to do it otherwise.
But even if we get offered an exclusive, which we do a lot, we pass on the vast majority of those. But if we do it, having the exclusive and the embargo is helpful so that we have enough time to plan and to do the interviews and to write the story. If someone says, “Okay, we’re giving you an embargo until tomorrow,” that’s not very helpful.
[00:11:34] B. BAMBERGER: Ideally, how much time would you want ahead of an explosive? Like, yes, I want the exclusive. How much time?
[00:11:41] B. BERGMAN: I think probably for like a just like fundraising one, probably about like maybe a week would be good.
[00:11:49] B. BAMBERGER: Okay. It’s not too long. Okay. Yeah.
[00:11:52] B. BERGMAN: Yeah. I mean, we don’t want like too long.
[00:11:54] B. BAMBERGER: Yeah, yeah. Of course.
[00:11:56] B. BERGMAN: But something maybe like a little bit more bigger or something. Maybe longer, but I think about a week is good.
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