Your First Press Release: A DIY Guide
A public announcement is a good opportunity to generate news coverage, to reach potential customers and even to attract top talent. Avigail Levine, former head of marketing and community at venture capital firm Aleph, shares her tips for making a successful announcement
Over the past few years, as head of marketing and community at Tel Aviv-based firm Aleph Venture Capital, I helped portfolio companies prepare their announcements and build their strategy, some with PR agencies and some without. Each announcement taught me new insights. I decided to share some of my takeaways for the benefit of those going through this process for the first time.
Sounds pretty obvious, however, founders often set very general goals such as “letting the world know we exist” or “announcing our new feature.” Such goals won’t get you very far. Be more specific and quantitative. Identify your target audience —be they customers, investors, or employees. You should also decide on the announcement objectives and use them as a measure of success. Is reaching 200 new customers your goal? Hiring 4 new engineers? You need to answer these questions first. Once you have figured out your goals and target audience it would be easier for you to build your story and approach the right publications.2. Build your story
Reporters, especially those writing for popular publications, are bombarded with stories and article suggestions on daily basis. Identify what makes your story unique and worth writing about. Ask yourself: “what industry are we changing from the ground up, will the world look any different with our product in it and why should anyone care?” Using buzzwords such as “disruptive technology,” “machine learning,” and “ICO” is not enough.Avoid writing ambiguous statements like “our solution disrupts the healthcare industry” and replace them with concise descriptions of what your product actually does like “our solution gives patients control over their medical indicators, relieving them from wasting time going to the clinic for no real reason.” It is important to explain the pain before introducing your solution. If you cannot find interesting angles about your product or technology, try to shift the focus to the founders and their track records, to your customers, or to your investors and the size of the round.
Numbers help make stories more interesting, so make sure to include some in your pitch, “over 200 million people suffer from this problem in the U.S. alone,” or “our product helped fix 450,000 bugs in 2018.”3. Pitch to the right publication
Now that you have the story it is time to pitch it to the relevant publication and reporters. Remember, we set the target audience in step 1. Go back to that and consider which publications those people are most likely to read. Israelis love to run announcements on TechCrunch, but that is not necessarily the right outlet for every company or product. If you are launching a product for stock traders, they probably read the Wall Street Journal or Bloomberg.4. Building the pitching process
You have to be organized when pitching to reporters. First, decide on a strategy. Do you want to give exclusivity and priority to one major outlet or to be featured in every available outlet? I usually try to first get an exclusive in a major publication. After I have an exclusive story secured, I share the press release with other journalists to get additional coverage. Make a list of 20 outlets and prioritize them (in each outlet you can reach out to more than one reporter but do not approach too many as it seems unprofessional. The list should be on a spreadsheet which should include who on your team approached each reporter, when, and what the response was. Do not underestimate the importance of an organized process, especially when there are many people involved. Remember your story is competing with 100 other stories so the reporter might not respond immediately. Wait a day before you move on to the next one and do not hesitate to ping the same reporter twice.5. Choosing the announcement date
Timing is critical. Check the calendar to avoid holidays in the target markets where you plan to make the announcement. Similarly, announcing something the week of the Super Bowl or during CES is a really bad idea. Also, try to avoid making the announcement on the weekend (Thursday-Sunday) because you will lose momentum.Allocate between three weeks to a month to plan and pitch your story. Pitching can be a lengthy process, and you want to give reporters ample time to write a story. You should set a timeline with milestones and decide what should happen at each one (a week to draft the announcement, then 2 weeks for pitching and leave another week for the reporters to write the article). A month seems like a long time, but you will need a buffer in case pitching takes longer than expected. Also, keep in mind that the process might not develop as you had expected, and you might need to improvise or change the date of the announcement. Be ready for surprises. 6. How to pitch?
Don’t wait for the announcement to start building your relationship with reporters. Find a few reporters that write about your space and start interacting with them. Twitter is a great tool for that. If you have not yet established any relationships with reporters, warm introductions are a good way to approach them. Search your network, your friends, your team, and even your investor’s network. Reporters will be much more responsive when they know the sender. Start with an intro, be factual and short. Explain why this topic is relevant to the specific reporter (do some research about their previous articles and areas of interest). Most reporters respect embargo, but it is always good to ask them before sharing the news. If the reporter has shown an interest in reviewing the press release, send it in the email itself. Don’t attach a word file, as some email accounts might block it.7. What should the press release include?
A regular press release usually includes the date and time of the announcement (highlighted so that the reporter will not miss the embargo time) and the location where the announcement was made. Normally, this will be the place in which the company is located, but, sometimes, you might want to change the location to attract the reporter’s attention.The first paragraph should contain the facts—what is it that you are announcing, for example, a product launch or an investment round. The second paragraph should include the reason for building your product or company—what problem are you solving and why. This paragraph should also include the size of the market or the problem. The third paragraph should be about the founders and investors and should include their quotes. You can add a quote by a customer as well. The announcement should also include an intro paragraph about the company and a paragraph about each of the investors in the round. Do not forget to include contact details and a link to the company’s website. 8. Using Newswire
If it is an important announcement I recommend using a newswire service such PR Newswire or Business Wire. These are services that distribute the press release to hundreds of outlets according to your industry. These are second or third tier outlets, but this lets you spread the word and improve SEO and traffic to your website for a relatively low price.9. Prepare a media kit that reporters can access online
The media kit should include links to the company’s social channels, previous articles about the company and screenshots or videos of the product. The more visuals you have the better. Also do not forget to prepare professional photos of the founders and the team (you do not want the publication to use a photo of your investors because they don’t have a good photo of the team. It happens, believe me). Make sure to have several versions of the photos for different publications. Do not forget to mention the name of the photographer because publications won’t publish a photo without including credit.10. Clear time to talk to reporters
You and your investors should clear some time to talk to reporters a day before and on the day of the announcement. Reporters do not want to copy-paste your announcement. They would prefer to include a more in-depth or personal perspective and would like to ask you a few questions about the company and product. Respect that and be available for them. It is for your own benefit.
Avigail Levine is the director of marketing at Tel Aviv-based startup Datos Health Ltd. She was formerly head of marketing and community at venture capital firm Aleph.