The following post was written by Promo.com VP Communications Hila Shitrit Nissim, during her tenure as VP Marketing at Viola (2005-2017)
Much has been written about the new age of public relations and the transformation of the news industry. We’ve gone from the relative simplicity of a morning or an evening edition of a printed newspaper, to a 24/7 smorgasbord of online channels, and an era in which so many people rely on their Social Media feeds for most of their news updates (and maybe also the odd push notification from their favorite news apps). So what is a press release and why is it still an important tool for companies when done right?
A press release is a way for you to pitch your story to your customers or users, and to reporters who can help you tell the story not only to your audience but also to audiences that you might otherwise not be able to reach on your own.
Reporters usually have to sift through countless press releases every day as part of their job, which is why it’s so important to get your press release right, because if you don’t, not only might it be overlooked for publication, but if you haven’t written it well or conveyed the most important parts of your story, you will have wasted a great opportunity to get your intended message “out there”.
TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher wrote a post explaining why reporters hate dealing with lousy press releases and why we should do our very best to provide them with an excellent pitch which is clear, concise and to the point. The post was a little controversial and some people were offended by Butcher’s “less than delicate” tone, but his goal was to drive change, and personally I like that kind of straightforward writing style.
Although writing a press release is a daunting task for some, and especially for startups that may not have had much experience with press releases in the past, it really isn’t rocket science, and can actually be easy to master if you use a well-crafted template and some basic guidelines. This makes it easier not only for startups to write, but also for reporters to screen and decide whether it’s newsworthy or interesting.
So what are the components of a good press release?
1. Write an appealing headline that encapsulates the gist of the PR
Try to attract the reader’s attention by capturing the most important highlight of your news item or story in the headline. That way, if the person you’re pitching the story to or the readers themselves are short on time, they won’t even need to read any further to have grasped the crux of your story. It’s not always possible to do this, but it certainly helps, especially with news items.
If it is a PR about a funding round, for example, it’s important to include the round size and the names of the lead investors. In general reporters like numbers, especially in reference to money and investing, so if you can disclose some data in your press release it will add to its appeal.
You can also use a sub-headline (if necessary) to elaborate on the main headline by providing a few more highlights from your story, like funding targets, growth plans etc. – but it’s not a must.
2. Use simple language and include all the relevant details
The first paragraph of the press release should include the main elements of your story: The “who, what, when and how”. This is relevant regardless of the subject of the press release, whether it’s a product launch, news about securing new funding or signing a large contract: Simplifying your story and including all of the important details in the first paragraph is crucial.
You should also provide a one-sentence overview about the company in the first paragraph so that readers don’t have to wait until the third paragraph to find out what the company does.
3. Avoid buzzwords, acronyms, technical terms and complex jargon
Most startups like to describe their technology and solutions using very technical language, which is impressive on one hand, but not clear to most readers on the other hand. So instead, aim to describe your company’s offering in a way that even your grandparents or your kids can understand it, and test it on someone who is unaffiliated with the company and even the industry. If they understand your description, that’s how you’ll know that you’ve achieved your goal.
What to include in press releases about new investments/funding rounds:
In some cases, depending on who you’re pitching to, the publisher will provide a guide that spells out exactly what they need to know. Inbal Orpaz a reporter at Israel’s TheMarker, for example, created her own questionnaire for entrepreneurs in order to make sure that they provide all the information she needs to write her article and avoid having to follow up on incomplete press releases. (And here’s another example in Hebrew from Globes reporter Roy Goldenberg)
Here’s my checklist of basic details include:
- The relevant date and location of the relevant news item/story (to add context)
- When was the company founded
- Headquarters location and any other offices
- Who are the founders
- Company background including how it was founded
- What is the product (using simple language)
- What market need/s are you solving
- Key customers (and examples of well-known or “big name” customers if possible)
- How many customers (presuming the figures are impressive)
- Key competitors (if relevant)
- Business model
- Number of employees (in your head office, and internationally if relevant)
- How many more people you plan to recruit (if relevant)
- Total fundraising to date
- Size of current round
- Investors in current round
- Who are the other investors in the company
- Funding purpose
Some publications also like to know details about revenues, profitability and company valuation, but private companies usually don’t provide this kind of information.
4. Provide one or two valuable quotes
It’s not necessary to provide quotes from ALL of the senior executives in your company, or from even from investors and customers. One or two (maximum) quotes from stakeholders that are actually relevant to the story are sufficient, plus it adds a “human” element to the story. Bearing in mind that that “the shorter the PR, the better”, try to provide quotes that:
Come from someone who is appreciated, well-known or respected by your industry (with as much seniority as possible)
Add some new information that wasn’t already included elsewhere in the press release (like an insight of some sort)
Add some data: It is always interesting to hear someone’s view on market size, size of the deal or growth rate of the company (depending on the topic of the PR of course)
Reinforce relevant facts or add some spice and color
Once the press release includes all the vital details of your story – and bearing in mind that you’re trying to keep the press release as short as possible – try to add relevant facts that help the reader to learn more about your company, such as names of key customers, statistics about your users, details about product roadmap or anything else that is relevant and adds value.
See? It’s not so scary after all!
And to help you even further, here’s an example of a real press release I wrote on the occasion of Playbuzz (one of our portfolio companies) raising their Series A funding of $3M a couple of years ago.
Example of PR announcing a new funding round