Why Your New Startup Needs an Old School Press Release

News Release is the New Name for a Press Release

What's under the wraps of the new and improved Press Release?

I got news for ya. The press release is not dead; it just got a better agent and underwent a makeover to keep up with the young crowd. Ready for its big reveal?

Presenting…(HTML drum roll please)…the News Release. Tah dah!

What’s the difference? A few consonants.

Well, that and a more modern delivery method. No more faxing. I know, amazing right?

People, please. Press release, News Release. You say potato, I say P Diddy.

You can change names all you want, the content is still the same. And if you work for a startup, you should know that the content, handled correctly, can still get your company’s name in the press. 

Get In with the In Crowd

Do a Google search on the topic and you’ll find articles like “Die Press Release, Die” and “RIP, the Press Release.” These stories all claim that Twitter, blogs and YouTube have replaced the press release as a method for reaching journalist.

All the cool people and social media pundits seem to think that the old school press release is now akin to Charlie Sheen’s “winning” mantra, tired and pointless.

But the fact is that whether you Tweeted your way into the minds of journalists, or got their attention when your company’s blender pureed a rake on YouTube, once you have the attention of the media, you still have to deliver the goods.

And the goods are a concisely worded pitch that leads with facts, wrapped in a newsworthy hook, followed by the pertinent details and proper sources.

AKA a press release.

Call it a news release if you want to. Call it a pitch if you have to. Just be sure you call it an important part of your company’s communication plan.

Press Release is the Meat of your Communcation Plan

Where’s the meat?

Meat, Meet Potato

YouTube videos, social media and guerilla tactics—they’re all important parts of a balanced communication campaign. But don’t confuse your veggies with your protein.

These tactics are only the leafy greens that get your message moving through the system.

The meat of your message is found in the content of a traditional release. And the journalists will need that meat to complete the meal.

An Exercise in Utility

To write a good release, or pitch, you need to remember two things:

  1. the media needs your help
  2. the media does not work for you.

Reporters may not be in the business of promoting your compnay, but they are in the business of finding good content. Good, timely, newsworthy content. Hold the fluff. If you can give them that, your story will get covered.

The best way to insure that your message meets those criteria is to craft your message to fit the old school press release format. Answer who, what, when, where and why, while giving the journalist a reason to be interested.

Sarah Needleman of the Walls Street Journal said the best way to get her attention is to skip the small talk.

In a HARO (Help a Reporter Out) telecourse on how to get the attention of the media, Needleman said to make your point in the first sentence and be brief. If you can get your entire message across in three paragraphs, all the better.

All the journalists on the call agreed. They want to be pitched concisely with the answers to these questions:

  • What’s your angle for the story
  • What’s the news hook
  • What’s the background
  • Why is it relevant to their audience

Your Just Desserts – Benefits Beyond the Press Release

Besides needing the information found in a release to close the deal with your journalist, the act of writing a release is a fantastic way to hone your message. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Your first paragraph is a distillation of your talking points. Use it to keep a laser focus on what you’re trying to communicate.

Your information packed, clever headline is a Tweet waiting to take flight.

And the background material and expert quotes can be repurposed on your company blog.

The concept of a press release may be old school, but it’s still the best way to educate the media. And the best first step in your communication plan. Don’t let the pundits tell you otherwise.

Working for Wonka? Know this: Will a traditional, old school press release alone get you booked on the Today Show? By itself, probably not. Does that mean you shouldn’t write one? Definitely not.

For a super user-friendly, super free press release template, check out Get Help. Still having trouble grasping the concept? Want more tips on how to get your name in the press? Consider booking a Coffee and a Nudge session with me.

What’s your experience? Are you still using press releases? 

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11 Comments

  • Trevor

    Reply Reply July 29, 2011

    I disagree. Unless you’re Apple, press releases are masturbatory.

    The opportunity cost of writing a press release (or news release) is very high. Most startups don’t write well and certainly can’t write with brevity. You’re much better off spending that time developing relationships with customers and putting feet on the street instead of pen to paper.

    Secondly, if you want to convince me, you need to take your own advice and show me hard metrics on the efficacy of releases. Language like:

    “These tactics are only the leafy greens that get your message moving through the system.”

    “The meat of your message is found in the content of a traditional release. And the journalists will need that meat to complete the meal.”

    Is empty.

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply July 29, 2011

      Trevor:

      That’s a great perspective. I’m certainly not saying that PR ranks over sales, not by a long stretch. But as part of a complete communication and marketing plan, PR can be a totally free, and completely effective tactic. You want to talk to a larger group of buyers, quickly, with a limited staff? Want your company to seem larger right away? Get coverage in a trade publication. Super easy to do with a good press release.

      So here is a recent stat from a Oriella PR Networks, who surveyed just under a thousand journalists with the question of how they wanted to receive information….drum roll… 75% still say they want an emailed press release. That compared to 16% who said a social media vehicle. Of course they want a ‘quality release.’

      That’s the point I’m making. (Maybe I didn’t make it well??) Going old school still works. And for a marketing newbie, as many entrepreneurs are, the work of crafting a solid release can help you solidify your public message.

      I appreciate your point of view Trevor. Thanks for commenting.
      Kathy

      • Laura Click

        Reply Reply August 11, 2011

        Totally agree with you, Kathy.

        Trevor – You make good points. Relationships are key. However, I agree with Kathy. I think there’s still a lot of use for a good, well-written news release. You’re right – many small companies or start-ups may not have the writing chops to put together something that will get noticed. That’s where a PR or marketing consultant could do wonders for the company.

        Also, while social media can do a great job of getting the word out, you need something to point people to. And, I think a news release on your site is a great place to send them.

        However, the most important thing to remember is that it has to be NEWS. If it’s not, then no matter what you do, it won’t get noticed.

  • Andy Prince

    Reply Reply August 2, 2011

    Hi Kathy,

    I tend to agree with you. I’ve been doing PR for about 15 years, and the tactics and approach that tend to get the most press coverage are the ones that I’ve been using for 15 years (telling a good story, building relationships with the press, doing your research, etc). I do believe Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. all have their place and are powerful tools that are simply part of the expanding communication toolbox — but certainly not at the expense of more traditional tactics. Good post.

    Cheers,

    Andy

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply August 2, 2011

      Thanks Andy!

      Yeah, I agree that all the social media tools can be great to get the media’s attention, but you have to do what you just said…tell a good story, work the relationship with that journalist etc.

      Thanks for reading, and for commenting. Great to get the perspective of someone in the PR field!

      Kathy

  • Nadia Balici

    Reply Reply August 3, 2011

    Great article! Love you sense of humor too!

  • Cindy Lavoie

    Reply Reply August 16, 2011

    Kathy,
    Your points are right-on, and remind me that when hype on new tech starts feeling over-the-top, it’s usually time to return to the basics. Then tie the basics to the new stuff, add wisdom to innovation. Your quote is perfect: “Your information-packed, clever headline is a Tweet waiting to take flight.”

    Thanks for the post.
    Cindy

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