Do you remember the story about the Amazon drone delivery program, which spread around the world like a deadly super virus right before Christmas? Probably you do. To make it short, Amazon announced that within only a couple of years, packages will be sent to your home by drone.
Why did everyone talk about this story, even though experts agreed it was unrealistic? Firstly, Amazon promised to solve a problem (long delivery times) within a given time range. Secondly, they would do so by utilizing awesome-spooky technology (drones). And thirdly, they gave their story credibility by actually demonstrating how that could work with a fully-functioning drone prototype. On top of all that, Amazon managed to send a very subtle message around the world: “We’ll do anything to deliver our packages even faster – no matter, how much it costs.”
Compared to conventional marketing, getting newspapers to write about you has one major advantage: it’s free of charge. Amazon didn’t need to buy advertisement space, print flyers or hire a designer. Yet, millions of people read their story. Simply because journalists thought their story is worth reading.
Press work is not as easy as it sounds. Journalists receive dozens, if not hundreds of emails every single day from people, companies, and organizations who all try to convince them that their story is worth reading. However, with a typical journalist writing no more than one or two articles a day, the chances of publication are very low.
So what can you do to get some of that free advertisement and place an article about your startup in the news? There are no secrets or guarantees. However, if you follow these five steps, there is a good chance for success:
1. Assume no one gives a damn about your startup
Of course, your parents are proud of your startup. And of course, your friends find it really cool what you’re doing. But outside of that tiny circle, no one in the entire universe really cares about your startup. Because it’s a tough world out there.
This is the sort of mindset that you should approach any press work with. Why? Not because it is necessarily true, but because it will save you from disappointment, maintain your motivation to keep going even though no one reacted to your emails, and make you happier when a journalist actually gets hooked on your story. But most importantly, it will really get you to sit down and make your story as interesting as possible.
2. Find your story
To attract attention, you first need to find something about your startup that’s newsworthy. Your startup being a really cool new thing is definitely not newsworthy.
Start out by thinking about your mission, or what you want to achieve with your venture on a societal scale. Let’s assume, for the sake of illustration, that you are Zero Waste Jam, a social venture that turns fruit otherwise thrown away into delicious jam. Then, your mission would be: “Cutting down fruit waste.”
Using the framework of the Amazon drone story – problem, solution, timeframe –, we can easily construct a story from there: “Zero Waste Jam turns excess fruit into durable, delicious jam. By doing so, they cut down on fruit waste. Their goal is to lower total fruit waste in their city by 50% within three years.”
3. Tell your story
So now that you have your story, you need to put it into a press statement. The most important thing to remember during writing is that a press statement is not the same as an advertising text. It is to be written just like a news article: factual. That’s why its called a “press statement”. This means: third person, no overly enthusiastic wording, down-to-earth tone.
First, you need a short, to-the-point headline. For example: “Zero Waste Jam: reducing fruit waste by half with jam”. Some journalists just read the headline and already know if this is a story they want to cover.
Then follows an introduction, were you give a summary about what the problem is, how you solve it and how long this will take. Bullet points summarizing the summary are an option.
After that, you can go into more details. Why is this issue important? Why is it important to you? How exactly will you solve it? Why will it work? When will it work? What are your goals?
Remember to stay factual. “You may also cite yourself”, says Fritz Jergitsch, author of this article. “That way, you can include subjective statements, such as ‘Zero Waste Jam is delicious.’”
Below the press statement, make sure to provide your contact details and a short boilerplate text about your startup. A boilerplate is a PR term for texts that can be reused in different situations without having to change it. The text must describe your company, its core business and the business policy.
Lastly, you’ll need some good pictures. Get someone with a good camera to do it. Don’t do group pictures! Rather, try to capture the daily life within your venture. Show how you do your work. Also, include a portrait picture of yours, just to be sure. Upload the pictures into a Dropbox folder (or any other cloud storage service) and include a link into your press statement.
If you need more detailed instructions for writing a good press statement, consult this guide: http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Press-Release
4. Send your story
Under normal circumstances, press statements are sent out to a huge distribution list full of journalists from all kinds of fields. However, you probably won’t own such a list at hand and won’t be prepared to sit down for two days and assemble one. Personally, I only use distribution lists for press statements about events or important dates anyways.
Why? Because the chance that a journalist will report about you is much higher if he or she can be sure that no other journalist will. And exclusivity is not provided when sending out via a distribution list.
All you really need is the email address of a handful of journalists whose field of interest is related to what you do. Look for articles in relevant newspapers that deal with subjects in connection with your startup, for example entrepreneurship and sustainability. Write down the name of the journalists and try to somehow find out their email (sometimes, their email address will be provided below the article). Usually, the address will be something like firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t add chief editors to your list – you’ll just waste your time and their email storage.
Once you have collected some addresses, contact the first one. Use the headline of the statement as the subject – it’s an eye catcher. Explain that you are contacting him or her exclusively and that you wanted to know if they’d be interested in covering your story. Paste the press statement right below.
If the first one has not responded within a day, send the press statement to the next one in your list. However, my experience is that if you are contacting them exclusively and if you emphasize that, they will usually respond even if they are not interested.
Once you have a positive response from a journalist, the wait is not yet over. Newspapers and magazines often plan long ahead. Sometimes, a journalist shows interest, then doesn’t respond for a week or two, then suddenly approaches you with a date suggestion for an interview. Especially when your story is not tied to a specific date but could be published at any time (e.g. anniversary, your venture being awesome, etc.), a journalist will likely put you on standby until there is not so much going on.
You’re only really done when you see your face smiling of the paper. That’s it!