Can your press release avoid the bin?

How do most businesses see media and press relations?
In a nutshell: simple, effective and cheap when you can manage it internally. For a startup, press relations (PR) are unquestionably one of the fundamentals of the communication plan (think about the return on investment from that Techcrunch coverage…); as long as they do it right. While a good PR strategy can help give visibility to products, solutions or even the company itself, a bad plan, or poor management of it, can burn you out with media for a while.

Journalists are your clients

So, who is going to buy your story? When working on PR, remember that journalists are targeted by every company out there trying to get some publicity. We are talking hundreds of emails a day here. And nobody likes mass-spamming.
Imagine receiving 100-200 letters (yes, snail mail) at the same time; how do you choose which one you’re going to open first? The shape, the subject, the sender will surely help you decide.
For journalists, it’s the same; your communications must stand out. Do not write “press release” in the subject of your email or the title of your press release. Hook them with the information – or story – immediately and make sure it has an impact. Find the right words and wording that is attractive and informative.

Build your difference and invest in people

Behind every media and every article are people. So, make sure you know – or at least find out more – about the journalist you are contacting. In larger newsrooms, journalists are specialists in a sector, a vertical, etc. So, be careful not to send a tech release to the literature specialist.
Ideally, you should build up relationships with journalists even before sending content. In the same way as approaching investors should not happen when you finally decide (or need) to raise money, building relationships with the media should also happen early and naturally.
That is approaching relevant people, networking, without having an ask. Finally, beyond individuals, research the media you’re sending your press release to and ensure that the information you’re offering is in line with the editorial preferences – or even the niche – of said media.

Control and simplify your communication

One of the most complicated things about PR is to give information to a third party (journalists, editors) to read, understand and from which to produce content that sheds light on your business (ideally, positive one). It’s not a game, and you can’t just jump in without knowing how to swim. You won’t get to ask a journalist to change a sentence or paragraph of their published piece (if you have managed to make it that far) because it doesn’t suit you. The best way to control your communication is to deliver a press release that is as clear and straightforward as possible. Remember that a press release is a promotional pitch. Everything starts from there, from the words you use, the tone you set and the way you tell your story. Keep it simple; make it emotional (as in, be clear and generate interest).
And let’s be clear, saying, in a press release – or a pitch, actually – that you are the leader, the best, etc. will never make it as is in an article. Would it do, that article would most likely be sarcastic.

Another essential element to master is timing

You don’t send a press release to a newsroom on an evening, at 9 pm, asking for your “crucial” piece of news to “come out tomorrow morning”.
Don’t turn your decent PR piece in yet another “to-do” email for the journalist(s) you are trying to reach.
Give journalists time to do their work and spare time for your news. Overall, try to avoid anything at short notice and always allow a week for the processing of news. Above all, never demand a publication date (or a publication at all – remember, you are one of many and only the King/Queen of your own castle as far as the rest of the world is concerned).
If you send a press release to take advantage of a news item (who doesn’t like a bit of newsjacking?) focus on relevance and make that link clear in your subject line – make it easier to scan, see and action.

Don’t fall for the hype

These days, it is easy to find a site that will offer you, in one click, to send your press release to several hundred or thousands of journalists for just a few dollars. Steer clear of these – refer to my mass-spamming point above. These contact lists are not only often obsolete but also prevent any personalisation or proper targeting. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot; stick to a professional approach.

PR companies are not (necessarily) your enemy. Yes, as a startup, these may not be a priority expense as opposed to doing it in-house. But they can be relevant in some specific contexts. Note that their address book is just their business tool.
What they sell is the relationship of trust they have built up over time with journalists – and the skills to create or identify appealing content. This relationship that they will pass on to you at least partially. This is what will make your company more talked about than others.
Lastly, press relations often suffer from a preconceived notion that it’s simple when it’s, in fact, damn hard. You don’t improvise a PR strategy just like that and the time it requires is an expense that startups and small businesses have to consider too. Like everything else, building little by little and moving forward is the best way to approach it to avoid facing a mountain to climb later on.

My two cents for startups and businesses: start investing now.
Time (mostly), money (a little), but invest. Your future success is worth it, and PR is part of it.
Ultimately, make sure that the person to whom you entrust this precious role has mastered the code of media relations: respect.