Every developer dreams of launching their app and getting it featured on all the most significant tech news sites, then watching as their app rockets up the charts. Unfortunately, this doesn’t just happen out of the blue. To get this type of coverage you need to work with the press, get to know them and pitch your app correctly.
Not only do you need a great app, but you also need a great story.
I know it’s not easy for anyone starting out to get press coverage, but it is possible. If you have a truly killer app, it’s going to be a breeze. However, I guess that’s not the case. You’ve probably got a pretty decent app that’s better than 99% of the junk on the App Store. But you’re still competing with a lot of developers and companies with great apps and dedicated marketing departments. You’re going to need to work hard to elevate your app, get yourself known and most of all, tell a compelling story about why your app exists.
As with anything that’s worth doing, it’s going to take a lot of work and won’t be easy, but it’ll all be worth it in the end.
Let’s get stuck in.
Having the Press on your side is an essential part of any successful app launch. Sure you can have a great launch without press coverage, but you’ll either need a vast mailing list or have your app featured by Apple. Without either one of these, your launch is going to be small.
One of the biggest problems I hear from developers is that they don’t know where to start. I’ve often heard people say, “I emailed loads of sites about my app, but I never heard back”. If you mainly cold call a bunch of people that don’t know you or your app you shouldn’t be surprised that you didn’t get a response.
Remember that everyone started out as a nobody, it takes time to build up contacts and get known in any industry.
So how do you go about building up a list of contacts that will take notice and cover your app?
First of all, you need to do a little research, make a shortlist of tech sites you regularly read, along with the contact details for editors, bloggers, and writers in the industry that you respect.
Tech sites will often use the same journalists for a particular subject, so it’s worth making sure you contact the relevant person that has covered apps in a similar category in the past. Start putting all this information together in a spreadsheet (more on that in a bit). I know it sounds very out of date, but it’s the easiest way to get started.
If you’ve been in touch with journalists before, dig through your email archive and add them to the spreadsheet.
Once you’ve built up a list of at least 20 publications, you should go through each entry and try to locate the relevant contact details from their websites. More often than not you won’t be able to find a direct email address, a general site-wide address is good enough for now — It’s better to have a generic contact than nothing at all.
If there’s a certain journalist that you really like, or they have covered similar apps in the past, you should make it a priority to try and connect with them and build a relationship. Don’t be pushy, just be yourself.
“Remember that there’s no secret recipe for success, but a clear message always helps with the press. Avoid complicated terminology and pitch your app with a concise, direct description. Don’t underestimate GIFs and short videos for that.”
— Federico Viticci, Editor-in-Chief, MacStories
Twitter is often a great place to start building these relationships. It’s much better to start or join a conversation on Twitter than send an email out of the blue. Make sure you’re always honest and add value to the discussion, don’t just chime in because you feel like you should. Building relationships with the press is a long-term strategy.
Conferences are also an excellent place to mingle with peers and be introduced to members of the press. WWDC is a must go to event for this (or smaller conferences like Release Notes are ideal). It will honestly be one of the best investments you’ll make. There are plenty of parties and events going on during that week. This makes it easy to meet new people, and there are plenty of chances to get introduced to journalists, bloggers, and podcasters.
If you do plan on going to a conference try to find out who’s going beforehand, that way you can start building a relationship with them before you go. Follow them on Twitter, and drop them an email saying you’d like to meet up if they have time. Just remember to be yourself. The last thing you want to do is come across as being false or dishonest.
Build a Press List
It surprises me how many developers and small companies don’t keep a press list. It’s honestly one of the most important things you can do for your business no matter what size you’re at.
A press list is even more critical for smaller indie studios, yet these are the very people that don’t have them.
Just to clarify, a press list is precisely what it sounds like: A list of journalists, along with their contact info and the publication they work for.
Keeping an up-to-date press list gives you an easy way to reach out to the media every time you launch a new product or update. Sure there are PR firms or PR mailing services you could use, but they cost a lot and are usually not as effective as if you take the time to do it yourself. Just think, if you were a journalist would you rather speak to the creator of the product or a PR firm that has very little insight into how or why the product was made?
You shouldn’t underestimate the importance of having good media coverage as it’s one of the critical components to helping propel your app up the charts at launch. It can often be even more effective than being featured by Apple.
The easiest way to keep track of your press contacts is in a spreadsheet. I try to avoid spreadsheets as much as possible, but for keeping a press list, I’ve still not found anything better. I use Numbers.app from Apple but feel free to use whatever works for you. Anything is better than nothing. I’ve looked for an online service to manage these contacts, but they are all overly complicated and come with a monthly subscription fee. Unless you do marketing full time, I’d say it’s best to stick with a spreadsheet as it’s free and easy to manage.
A basic press list should contain the following columns: Publication, Website, Type, Name, Position, Email, and Notes. This is not set in stone; you can add and remove columns depending on your needs. For example, you could include space for a Twitter handle and a column for sent promo codes.
A notes column is also useful to keep track of coverage and responses. For example, it’s worth noting if a publication has covered you in the past or perhaps never responds to your emails. As your press list grows, notes will become increasingly important.
Don’t wait for your app to be finished, reach out to the press and your peers and ask if they’d like to test your app while it’s in beta. If a journalists or blogger tests your app, they can provide invaluable feedback along the way and make your 1.0 product even better. You’re more likely to get coverage if a journalist has used the app and watched it evolve on the road to 1.0
Tell a Story
Journalists are always looking for interesting stories to cover, stories that will bring in more readers. Tech sites live and die by the number of hits and visitors they get. They want topics and apps that will drive traffic. Remember, they are not there to do free marketing for you. It’s all about the page hits.
Having a great story about your company or app can open a lot of doors. Only reach out with genuinely newsworthy items. You’ll get a better response and a lot more respect that way.
For an app to get coverage, it has to be newsworthy, the fact that you’re launching a new app is not newsworthy.
A new photography or weather app is not newsworthy; there are thousands of those in the store already and more being submitted every day. Very few apps are original or ground-breaking, and when there’s so much noise, it’s not surprising that it can feel impossible to get coverage.
“There is a 100% guaranteed, sure-fire way to make sure the press mentions your app, and that’s to build the next app sensation. Happily, just making yourself available – a good press area of your website with downloadable assets and a dedicated email address – and only getting in touch when you have something genuinely big to talk about will stand you in astonishingly good stead even if you don’t.”
— Christopher Phin, Former Editor-in-Chief, MacFormat & Mac|Life
You need to work hard to set yourself apart from everyone else, building a polished app is a great way to do this. But this alone does not guarantee coverage. You need a hook, something that will interest journalists and editors, something that is topical or different.
Shipping your app in time for the launch of a new device, especially devices with new capabilities is an excellent way to get coverage. You’ll also increase your chances of being featured by Apple. The only downside is that you might get lost in all the news. However, I’ve often found it’s a risk worth taking.
Everyone has a story to tell, some are more exciting than others, but everyone has one. You might be thinking, but I don’t have one or it’s boring. You need to look again and find something within what you’re doing that is interesting. Whatever kind of story you end up telling, make sure it’s genuine and honest.
There’s always a story to tell, and it’s often in the telling of it that makes it interesting. Great storytellers can make even the most mundane of stories captivating.
I Don’t Have a Story
I’ve heard this many times before, and while I’m not suggesting you make up a story, you can create one that will help you in your quest for coverage. For example if you’re building a Photo app, you could approach some well-known photographers and ask if they’d like to beta test it and give you feedback. If you manage to get a reasonably well know photographer or Instagram user onboard, you then have a story.
You don’t need someone famous or notable backing your app to get press coverage, but you do need a good app and story to get a journalist interested.
Email the Press
When you do get in contact with the press, keep the email short, personal, but professional. A single paragraph should be enough to summarise the story and app. You can include bullet points in the email for exciting features that you need to highlight in the app, between 3 tod 6 is enough. It’s a good idea to include an image, or an animated gif showing off your app. Always be honest, stick to the truth and don’t try to bullshit them. You’re in this for the long haul; it’s about building lasting relationships. Maybe they won’t cover this app, but they might remember you and cover your next app.
Over the years I’ve built up a list of contacts in the media, everything from large tech sites, magazine editors, to independent bloggers. On occasion, I was introduced to them, but more often than not I reached out to tell them about what we were building. I’ve met some amazing people over the years and made some great friends by doing this. You shouldn’t look at this task as just business, use it as an opportunity to get to know people and become part of the broader community.
We’re fortunate that in the Mac and iOS community, people are usually friendly and approachable.
Find the indie apps on your iPhone that you love, find out who’s behind them and drop them an email or tweet telling them what you like about it. Congratulations, you’re now networking and making progress.
I know from my personal experience that I’m more than happy to tweet about an app that I like and I’ve been beta testing.
If you make a good contact add them to the spreadsheet as potential coverage at launch. Keep the conversation going where possible and work on building a rapport with them. Keep your press list updated, make a note of who’s a good contact and who never responds to your emails. This will give you a good overview of how much coverage you’ll get next time you’re planning an app launch or big update.
There’s no reason why you can’t start building a press list today, and best of all, the longer you maintain and update it the more valuable it will become. Don’t leave it until later, start now.
“If you build great products, you will get noticed by the press over time. Keyword: products. Building one app could make your entire company a hit or miss. Building more than one app is just as much about diversifying your business as it is about having opportunities to talk to the press when you have news to share. Once you get to know them, it will be a lot easier to market your new stuff. But, as good as your relationships may be, great products win out.”
— Ellis Hamburger, Former Reporter at The Verge
That Doesn’t Help
Okay, so you’re telling me you’ve followed my advice, and it doesn’t work?
There’s a very valid reason why your app didn’t get the press coverage you wanted, and unfortunately, it often boils down to one of the following things; It might be that your app just isn’t good enough or maybe you’re pitch email wasn’t exciting and got skipped over. If the press didn’t pick up on your app, it’s because it didn’t stand out.
Cold pitching the press is tough. Persistence is the key here. Each pitch you do will be better than the last. Maybe you’ll get almost no press coverage for your first app, but I’m willing to bet you’ll get more for your second app if you follow the advice I’ve outlined.
I often get told that it’s easier for me get press coverage because I run an established software company. It doesn’t guarantee me or my apps coverage; it gives me a foot in the door. If my latest app or product isn’t interesting it won’t get coverage; it’s as simple as that.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and if you give up, you’ll never progress and make the connections you need to be successful.
Keep at it and good luck!