Think about everything you know about public relations, publicity, and social media.
Ok, now forget it.
Forget everything you’ve ever heard from the PR industry. Forget what your friend said who works at a PR agency. Forget the advice you received from that tech conference speaker.
Starting right now, we’re going peel back the layers of traditional PR. We’re going to trim the fat. We’re going to focus on what can get us better results in less time. So are you ready to create a new type of PR that’s leaner, meaner, and cleaner?
Let’s do some PR hacking.
HACKING THE PRESS RELEASE
For many companies, the press release is the necessary first step in any PR campaign. It’s a pillar of the industry, a document that every PR person and journalist is familiar with and knows how to read.
To write a press release, you might start with the words “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” and then go on to describe the new product or feature. You’d probably include a quote from one of the company’s founders, followed by some factoids and statistics that support the company’s pedigree.
Then you distribute the press release on a wire service like PR Newswire or PRWeb. (These are agencies that distribute and syndicate news for a fee.) Maybe you post it on your website. You watch your press release get “picked up” automatically by websites that aggregate releases. (Hey, it’s free content for them.) You hope that a few bloggers or small news outlets see your release and write something about it, and you pray that a bigger, more influential journalist reads the press release, likes the content, and calls you for an interview.
So can this actually work? Rarely.
The press release is the epitome of what we call “me first” PR. This type of PR assumes that your company or organization is important and has something important to say.
With thousands of companies, organizations, and individuals competing for news coverage every day, it’s exceedingly unlikely that your press release will attract the attention of a top-tier editor, producer, journalist or blogger — let alone one who will call you up and develop a story for publication or broadcast.
So who does it work for? Very Important Brands (VIBs).
Apple, or Microsoft, or Netflix. These are blue chip brands that are afforded the luxury of being able to practice “me first” PR because anything they do is considered news by the media.
So why them and not you?
Consider, for a moment, the history of the press release.
Written in 1906, the first press release was created specifically because a big company, the Pennsylvania Railroad, had a major accident in which 50 passengers were killed.
The company’s PR representative, Ivy Lee, wrote a statement about the incident on behalf of the company so that it could tell its side of the story before rumors were spread in the media. The New York Times reprinted Lee’s eloquent statement and the legend of the press release was born.
The press release format was developed specifically to help Very Important Brands state their side of the story to the media.
PR for start-ups or small businesses is a fundamentally different game than PR for big companies. (This is one of the reasons why large PR firms have so much trouble with start-up PR.)
So how can smaller and new brands achieve what the big boys do with a newsblast?
Welcome to the wonderful world of “story ideas.”
INTRODUCING THE “STORY IDEA”
An alternative to “me first” PR is what we call a “you first” approach. To practice “you first” PR, you’ve got to learn to think like a journalist. You’ve got to puts their needs, not your needs, first.
To start off, you can break the ice by providing them with some information that would actually be useful to them and their audience, even if your company or product was never mentioned. Next, you can package this information in a way that is easy for them to use and understand. You can make them look good. You can help them impress their bosses. Maybe they’ll even get a big, fat raise.
This helpful information you’re providing is called a “story idea.” When you embed a story idea in a press-release — or even send it as an email — you're going to get results, every time.
For a moment, imagine you’re a journalist. Imagine you’re overworked, tired, underpaid, and have an editor breathing down your throat to bring up those ratings, circulation numbers, or page views. As a journalist, you’re constantly looking for that next big story to share with your readers — something that will really engage them and make them want to click, or buy the edition of the paper, or tune in to the evening news after watching that teaser.
If you were to receive something in your inbox that would help you accomplish this, wouldn’t you be grateful? In the sea of unsolicited email that you receive everyday, wouldn’t some helpful suggestions for stories or segments really stand out from the crowd?
In a nutshell, that’s the difference between a traditional press release and one with a story idea.
A traditional press release is all about your company and your product. It might introduce a new feature, talk about a new hire, or announce a new partnership and invite journalists to contact you if they are interested in your pitch, your angle.
On the other hand, a hacked press release includes a story idea that is a suggestion for an article, column, segment, or blog post that is “bigger” than your company and more “newsworthy” than your new offering.
A story idea could be about something that’s been in the news lately, a new trend you’ve observed, or some new statistics that you may have compiled. It will somehow relate to your start-up — allowing you to promote your product or service alongside it — but the relationship might not be immediately clear.
It’s your job to come up with story ideas that, by their very nature, intrinsically promote what it is that you do or sell.
For example, if your start-up is a mobile diet app or a dating app, you might pitch a story idea that discusses your recent finding that most of your male users prefer women who are body confident as potential wives — and would only be interested in dating or having a one-night stand with women are not proud or confident about their weight — no matter what their weight may be.
Better yet, if your diet or dating app’s new feature somehow relates to body image or body confidence, you’ll be secretly highlighting one of your key selling points in the very fabric of the story.
Wouldn’t a story like this be really interesting to journalists or bloggers? And if you’re handing them something that their audiences will surely want to watch or read wouldn’t those reporters will pay you back in kind by linking back to your website, app download page, or Kickstarter project?
SO ARE PRESS RELEASES DEAD?
Nope, not dead — they just need some hacking.
By embedding story ideas in your press releases, you make them work for consumers, journalists, and of course, for your brand.
By switching gears from “me first” to “you first” PR — you’ll get the results that your start-up deserves.