Nearly every startup I have worked with has been nervous about writing press releases. Lack of experience is one reason but people also think there are a set of secret rules to writing one “properly.” I’m also hearing startups say they believe press releases are irrelevant in an age of social media. I disagree. The majority of press releases really stink but they stink because they are written like we wrote them 15 years ago. A modern press release can be a valuable marketing tool for startups and I believe anyone can create a great one. Here’s how:
1. Decide Who and Why Before What – Why are you writing the release? Who do you want to reach? What would the perfect response be? We used to write releases for journalists who then wrote articles about them. Today releases go directly to news sites, bloggers and customers in addition to journalists. The press release needs to stand on it’s own and tell a story. Once you’ve decided who your audience is, define what you want them to do once they’ve finished the story. Do you want them to write their own story, click for more information, download something, or make a purchase?
2. Write A Great Headline – Most people never get past the headline. If there is one part of the press release that you really need to nail, this is it. Great headlines are short and grab people’s attention. The headline should be easy to share – ideally it should be short enough to Tweet (I’d keep it under 60 characters if you can because a Tweet will also include at lease one ID and a short url) or put in a Facebook status message.
3. Keep it Brief – Get to the point as quickly as you can and stop. Provide some links to deeper content for those that are interested but don’t try to say everything in one release. Take out everything that doesn’t add to the story, including quotes from an executive that don’t say anything more than “We’re Great!”
4. Provide Valuable Content – What sort of value can you provide beyond the company news? For example, can you provide guides or templates related to the topic you are covering? Think about the audience you are writing for. What can you give them that makes the release valuable?
5. Include Sharable Content – In my opinion the day of the text-only press release is over. Can you include a downloadable logo, pictures, video? People will share content if you give them something to share.
6. Make it Search Engine Friendly (but don’t go crazy) – I generally dislike content that is written specifically for SEO but paying SOME attention to this is important. The title should be short and contain your keywords if you can, just remember that having a title that people want to click on trumps having a title that contains your keywords. Your keywords should come earlier in the release, rather than later and include links.
7. Make it Worth Talking about – Again, think of your press release as a story (rather than the thing reporters write stories about). What makes that story interesting right now? How does it relate to what people are already talking about? The press releases I’ve done that have gotten the greatest traction have been either explicitly tied to a current trend or timed such that I knew they would be part of a larger conversation that was taking place. If you can’t imagine people talking about your release over lunch then it still needs some work.
I wrote earlier about my experiences with newer-style Press Releases in my post A Skeptics Guide to Social Media Releases.