Our guest this week on Coffee with a Journalist is Samantha Stokes from Insider. Samantha is a startups and VC reporter at Insider focusing on health tech and mental health tech companies. Click below to follow Samantha Stokes on Twitter and LinkedIn.
During the episode, Samantha talks about the timeliness of pitches, her interest in specific health companies and the people involved with them, how to connect with her without asking for coverage, and more.
Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
Her Inbox & Pitches
[00:02:47] BB: Indeed. Everyone – You need to look, people. You need to look at Insider’s vast, vast array of outlets, topics, etc. You really can find quite the treasure trove. So by all means, yes. Samantha, I know you are new or ish to journalism and even Insider, you could say, because it’s been about since April. How is your inbox?
[00:03:12] SS: It’s kind of a mess if I don’t take care of it. I am an inbox zero sort of person. But it’s kind of interesting because I joined Insider startup and VC team in April. But I’ve actually been at the company for about two years, so it’s been –
[00:03:28] BB: With finance right?
[00:03:29] SS: Yes, on the finance field. So I’m kind of fielding pitches still from some of my finance contacts, like trying to make it work when it does or kind of traffic controlling over to my colleagues over on the finance team who are better served to cover some of those stories and then kind of dealing with this influx of like new sources and new PR folks to get connected to. So it’s definitely a lot to deal with. But it’s a lot of fun, and it’s very, very busy.
[00:03:58] BB: Now, with your inbox zero, so on this show, there seems to be quite the wide array. There’s the inbox zero club. There’s the let it ride to 792,000 unread emails club. There’s the intricate sorting and flagging process club. So how are you getting to zero like every day? How often is that happening?
[00:04:21] SS: The goal is every day, and that definitely doesn’t always happen. Right now, how many do I have in my inbox? I have 16.
“So I’m kind of fielding pitches still from some of my finance contacts, like trying to make it work when it does or kind of traffic controlling over to my colleagues over on the finance team who are better served to cover some of those stories and then kind of dealing with this influx of like new sources and new PR folks to get connected to.”
[00:04:28] BB: 16. Okay. And it’s like seven o’clock. Okay.
[00:04:32] SS: I used to kind of do the intricate filing things away and the labels and stuff, but I found that what works for me is I have a few times throughout my day, and I’m constantly monitoring. But I have a few like chunks in the middle, the beginning, at the end of my day where I’m going through the emails in my inbox. I’m archiving or deleting things that don’t make sense to me at all. I’m normally archiving them.
Then the things in my inbox, I know that I – They’re an action item for me basically. That’s how I treat them. So it’s things that I need to be pitching to my editor, either for a yes or for a no. There are things that I just need to respond on. So I normally try to get into the habit of like every single day, those are action items for me. So they have to stay there in my inbox until I’m ready to deal with them. That’s a good motivator to kind of go back and to deal with them as soon as possible, so I can get back to an empty inbox.
Her Thoughts on the Perfect Pitch
[00:05:27] BB: What are the three elements you’d say for a great pitch?
[00:05:33] SS: So I think that it being topical for me. VC is really, really big, and I’m fortunate to be on a big enough team, where we have people covering EdTech, FinTech, Web3 and crypto, consumer. I cover healthcare. So for the most part, it’s kind of has to be in my world. It has to be timely, unless you’re just pitching just an intro, “I’d like you to know this person or I’d like to introduce you to either myself or to a client.”
“I would say that the specific slices of the health tech feed that I’m most passionate about are women’s health and mental health.”
But if it’s for a story that you’re pitching, it really needs to have a timeliness element, and there needs to be enough information in the pitch. I know this can kind of get tricky if something’s under an embargo. But there needs to be enough information to immediately catch my interest. Like sometimes, pitches are so vague. If I don’t kind of immediately see the story, I’m getting so many inbounds every day that there’s kind of that chance that there’s not enough information there. I might just archive it and move on, if it’s not right in front of me.
[00:06:32] BB: What do you mean by vague? Like they say, “Samantha, I have a company that raised maybe some money maybe sometime this year.”
[00:06:40] SS: Yeah. Or even vaguer than that. It’s like I represent –
[00:06:44] BB: Vaguer than that?
[00:06:45] SS: Yeah. I represent a company that has some news to share. Like at least if I knew what the funding round story, I can – You might pique my interest. Again, if something’s under embargo, I realize that I have to – We have to agree on that before you can send me more information. But I worked with a women’s health company that’s about to raise a sizable series A or a sizable seed round and would love to share a pitch deck or to send you the press release under embargo when it’s for next week.
But those kinds of clues that it’s a funding round or there’s some news there or it’s women’s tech or mental health or another area that you’ve seen that I’ve covered before, those things are all really, really helpful when it comes to piquing my interest and giving me enough information that this is something that I should pay attention to.
Her Thoughts on Exclusives, Embargoes, and Publishing
[00:09:29] BB: Excellent. You’ve mentioned exclusives and these embargoes. What are your pet peeves about either?
[00:09:37] SS: I think that sometimes when I get pitched on an exclusive and I asked for more information, sometimes I might decide if I get a little bit more information on even something that’s exclusive or under embargo, that it’s automatically assumed that if those are offered, that I will be writing a story. So I’ve had in certain cases where people have set me up to talk to somebody, and I made it very clear that I’m not committing to a story. I’m still interested in learning more. This is interesting to me, but I need some more information.
Then I get like followed up multiple times about when a story is coming out, which is really awkward. But it also kind of puts you on my bad list if I didn’t agree to anything. So I think that can be tough. Then again, like with embargo, lead time is really important and is really helpful. So you can offer me an embargo until tomorrow morning. That’s probably not something that I’m going to be able to accommodate if it’s 4:00 PM. So it’s great that you gave it to me under embargo, but there’s just not necessarily enough time to do anything about it. I can think of, frankly, few stories that rise to the importance of being able to cover it on such a short time turnaround.
“I think that sometimes when I get pitched on an exclusive and I asked for more information, sometimes I might decide if I get a little bit more information on even something that’s exclusive or under embargo, that it’s automatically assumed that if those are offered, that I will be writing a story.”
[00:11:20] BB: Oh, just for fun, just for fun. How many times has someone like the record of asking you like, “When is it going to be live? When is it going to be here?”
[00:11:30] SS: Normally, I think people are really good about that. I really, really try to set expectations when it comes to stories. So if it’s under an embargo, it’s going to go up when the embargo lifts. If it’s not and it’s a story that I’m working on, and maybe you’ve connected me to a source or to an expert, I really try to be upfront that this is something that I’m going to have going up in the next couple of days. Or this is something that I’m going to be working on later this week. Or this is a bigger project that I’ll be working on over the course of the month.
So I try to set expectations upfront, and I found that that’s really helped kind of just – Yeah. I found that that’s helped people not feel the need to follow up with me. If I’ve said that it’s going to be for later in the month, I think I would really have a problem if somebody’s like emailing me daily or every other day to check in about a story. I would probably have to say something. But that’s not happened, anything that’s coming to mind. But I hope I didn’t just give myself like bad karma saying that to me.
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