Here’s my PR tip for people (like me) who are terrible at PR a.k.a. the Tick-Tock List

17.34, Thursday 26 Oct 2017

The problem is that you launch a thing or have some big news and those pesky journos won’t cover it.

Here’s one approach:

  • treat journalists like human beings because that’s what they are. I’ve seen the “pesky journos” attitude a bunch and it’s an unhelpful category error that sets up an us-and-them division: most journalists I know are also product developers, consultants, entrepreneurs, creatives in other fields, etc. I don’t mean pretend to be mates, but do acknowledge that you’ve both got a job to do (you to get coverage, them to provide interesting stuff for their readers) and build a professional relationship around that
  • don’t reach out only when you want something

If you’re a pro, or if you have a marketing team, talking to journalists like this is second nature. But for founders who are just getting going - and for rank amateurs like me - it can be hard to know where to start.

So one way is to use what I call a Tick-Tock List.

(I only call it this in my head. Nobody else says this. What I mean is you should email people on the regular, like clockwork.)

How to run a Tick-Tock List:

  • Make a list of journalists who have covered you or your company before. Not the publications but the individuals (with luck you’ll build a relationship with them that lasts years as they end up super influential at big publications)
  • Email this group every 2 or 3 weeks. This email should be written by you, from your personal email, with no weird formatting: it’s not a newsletter. Journalists on bcc
  • Subject line: Company name, update number or date, top news
  • Don’t ask for coverage

What should be in each email:

The email should be short and easy to read. Use bullets.


  • Say hello
  • Say that they’re receiving this email because they’ve covered you before, that there are 12 people (or however many) on the list, and that you’ll stop emailing if they ask (or add them if they got the email as a fwd). The number is good transparency
  • Say the one sentence version of what you do in plain language like when you have to explain to your parent’s friends what the hell you do. Ideally this includes a “because”. Like, “We’re doing [what it is] in order to [big hairy goal] because [a value judgement about the world]”
  • Say these three things:
    1. what your company had achieved since you last emailed
    2. the biggest achievement they might have missed the last few emails (if there’s news coverage, include a link and say thanks)
    3. what’s coming up over the next week or two
  • Sign off with your name, phone number, your email address, and being open for a chat

By achievement I mean something that is outward-facing that is actually interesting. Concrete. If nothing happened, say nothing happened – and why.

After you’ve done this a few times, and if you’ve got something genuinely worthy of a story, you might want to say - before your three things, in bold - that you’ve got a launch/event/newsworthy thing coming up in a week or two, and you’re hunting for coverage. Offer to chat about it.

You might find - and this is the goal - that somebody on your list, somebody who has never replied before, happens to receive the email at the right time and they have the right-shaped hole in their slate, and so they get in touch to learn more and hopefully do a story.

More tips:

When you say what’s coming up, don’t be cagey or fake-enticing. Your email recipients aren’t marks, they don’t owe you anything, these are humans, one day maybe you might be friends. Be open enough for them to make a decision. But likewise don’t put them in the difficult position of being told a detail via email that you really want to keep secret.

What is newsworthy? Think: is this so interesting that if you heard it about someone else you would want to tell your non-bubble friends; have you said it in the right way to be easily understood, and provided the right words for others to do the same; can it further the narrative of the journalist.

(Aside. I feel that every publication has a worldview that it is continuously pushing. It could be something like “technology is building the beautiful future we imagined when we were kids” or it could be “this thing is niche right now but one day it will be mainstream and momentum is growing.” Find and provide an angle to allow journalists to use your story to develop and argue this worldview with their readers.)

The hard bit:

The hard bit: continue with the Tick-Tock List.

Let’s see, what else. Did I already say this isn’t a newsletter? This isn’t a newsletter - and there are many and I subscribe to many and they are brilliant - so you should also one of those (and a blog, and a twitter, and…). But this is more intimate. An actual email. Um. Be respectful. Your goals are

  • to build a professional relationship
  • to build a soap opera sense of momentum
  • provide familiarity so that big events and asks don’t come out of the blue
  • overall, to save time for the journalists
  • to provide potential stories in a mutually beneficial way

I’ve shared the Tick-Tock List pattern with a few companies over the years. I’m actually a bit nervous to share it here because it’s so trivial. But I’ve had a good experience of this personally, and reports of good effects, so I figured I’d write it up.

Please let me know if it works for you. (And if you’re on the other side of the fence, I’m curious about your views too.)

Bonus link: Mike Butcher’s article/rant The Press Release Is Dead - Use This Instead is fantastic. Check out the list of questions that he needs answered, as Editor-at-large of TechCrunch Europe, to get to grips with a possible story.

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