How to win free media for your startup – Part THREE (Press Releases)

Getting media attention
Winning media attention can be as easy as a well-written press release. Photo - Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels

In the THIRD post in this series on ‘how to win free media for your startup’, we examine the art of the press release, and how you can use these to gain free media attention …

Earlier in this 3-part series on gaining free media we looked at the importance of thinking like the media, and there were also 15 pieces of advice to bear in mind when contacting the media.

A well-written and targeted media release can be worth its weight in gold in terms of the free publicity and promotion it can provide for your business brand.

Be aware though that journalists may receive hundreds of media releases a week by email, so it’s important your message follows a recognisable structure and is easy to read (layout easy and clear with no typos and grammatical errors).

When I worked at Business News – a relatively small media business in the grand scheme of things – we received 1000 press releases a week, and very few (less than 20) probably ended up being a story.

Now, in my role running Startup News – an even smaller, niche publisher – I can tell you we receive several press releases a day, perhaps 50 a week, and only 2 or 3 become stories.

But those that follow a few simple rules, make it easy for us, are sometimes up within an hour or so.

The ones that don’t make it are because they are pretty rudimentary (this person has been appointed here or done that deal there) or are not targetted at the publication in mind (for example, Startup News only publishes stories on WA startups, so there’s no point sending us a press release about a Melbourne early stage tech business with no connection to Western Australia).

Faced with these odds, your media release needs to get to the point quickly, and have some degree of urgency.

The best ones will leave the impression that the media outlet needs to READ THIS NOW … but without resorting to click baity techniques like actually putting ‘READ ME NOW’ in the heading or subject line of course (!).

It’s fine line between appearing authentic and having something to say without coming across as desperate.

Generally, an effective press release will have several elements to it:

  1. ‘Inverted Pyramid’ – the most important information is at the top, in the headline, and first paragraph with supporting detail below. This will also be repeated in the subject line of the email.
  2. First Impressions matter – most journos and editors do not read beyond the title (or the email’s subject line) and the first paragraph before they have decided to publish or not. It needs to be newsworthy. What’s new and interesting for their audience? You have 10 seconds to get your point across.
  3. Send by email – the universally accepted method of reaching media. The email itself should be short (no more than 2 paras with the main gist of the story and who is available for interviews and photos). The press release and photos (or links to photos) are an attachment to the email, in word format, not pdf, so the text can be copied and pasted. Ideally, the media could simply lift your release and publish it as is, or with minimal changes (except perhaps to make it even better.)
  4. Title your release ‘FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: ’ in block capitals.
  5. An attention-grabbing HEADLINE then follows, with the BODY of the press release and CONTACT So-and-So about ‘XYZ Pty Ltd’ on the company at the bottom.
  6. Include QUOTATIONS from someone knowledgeable and authoritative (e.g. the CEO/founder). It might be why this novel product is going to be useful to the industry.
  7. Clearly mark the end of the release with ‘ENDS’.
  8. Make the release no more than one page. Sentences should be no longer than 25 words. Every sentence starts a new paragraph. Make it as SHORT as possible to get the story across.

Here’s an example of a successful press release sent to Startup News, that made it straight to the site…

Notice how the various elements of the release are clear and it has made it easy for the media to follow.
This release has followed good practice to the letter, and it was no surprise that Startup News duly published the article, almost exactly as per the release.

Structure of a well laid out media release

The main photo was also supplied, and so the resultant article looked like this…

The article mirrors the original release, almost word for word, including the headline and opening para.
The article mirrors the original release, almost word for word, including the headline and opening para.

What was then interesting was in follow-up social media posting, there was acknowledgment of the article, from the person mentioned, and his friends, so the information reached an even broader audience…

Flow on effects of social media add to the reach.
Flow on effects of social media add to the reach.

That’s how to do it.