This is the first of a three-part series about how to deal with the news media.
So, you’re about to launch the first-ever revolutionary solution that will transform the entire legal profession (and make you very, very rich). You send out a press release, inviting reporters and industry analysts to come to Ritzy Hotel for the official launch of the startup. To your shock, the only people who show up are co-workers, a few friends and a handful of folks with your last name. Here are 10 tips to avoid that nightmare.
First, a bit of context: In my 17 years as Editor-in-Chief of ALM’s Law Technology News (print and web), I saw the good, the bad and the really terrible when it came to legal technology press releases and demonstrations. So I started offering guidelines to help vendors improve their pitches and press releases. Much of that advice is still fresh, and also applies to startups. So here’s an update of do’s and don’ts. (Part 1 of 2 posts.)
PART 1: PRESS RELEASES
Here are the most common mistakes re: press releases.
- Too cryptic. You’ve been living and breathing every nuance of your startup, but the journalist or analyst is seeing it for the first time. Unless you have an established relationship with the journalist, assume that she or he knows absolutely nothing about your startup (and your company). Follow the classic “who/what/where/when & how.” Explain what problem or opportunity your startup addresses, explain how it works and define the target audience. Be thorough (but not encyclopedic). If you fail to include a through explanation, you may miss an opportunity for coverage. For product announcements, journalists often write straight from the press release and do not have time to research beyond the press release. Don’t expect them to go to your website or ask or an interview.
- Too much hyperbole: Never say your startup is the first, the best, the only, the industry leader, etc. It undermines your credibility—and chances are, somebody else somewhere else may have beat you to the concept. Nobody likes braggers. Be modest, let others say your startup is the best on the planet.
- Tech speak: If journalists don’t understand what you are saying, they won’t write about your startup. Do not use tech jargon, acronyms or clichés. Don’t assume the journalist has any background in tech. Write so that your grandmother will understand the press release. Words to absolutely avoid: 1) solution and 2) revolutionary (unless Steve Jobs is in the same sentence).
- Not taking advantage of the email subject line. Legal tech journalists and analysts get absolutely swamped with incoming email, especially before major trade shows (Legaltech N.Y., ILTACon, et al.) You would be surprised how many subject lines say just “Press Release.” Instead, use the subject line to cram in as much info so the journalist knows without opening the email what the news is. Example: “Press Release: Widget Co. Launches Predictive Coding Tool.” That also makes it easier to Google the press release. And don’t forget to label attachments.
- Leave out contact names and phone/email. If the journalist can’t reach knowledgeable spokespersons, you miss an opportunity for more nuanced coverage (or any at all). Tech editors and reporters often process huge volumes of press releases and tight deadlines. Also include your company’s website URL, and be sure that you have a virtual “Press Room” on the website that is easy to find and includes contact information.
- Don’t include art. Reports that include images are far more compelling than just words. Always include high-rez .jpg images (or links to the images) such as mug shots of your leaders, logo of your company, and if the startup has images or logos. Journalists are always fighting the clock, and may not have time to look for images. Be sure to put links to your images on your virtual “Press Room.”
- Don’t read the journalist’s or analysts’ website, blog, podcast or magazine before your send the press release. It’s easy to alienate journalists and analysts if you know absolutely nothing about what they do. Every interaction with writers builds a relationship that can be good or bad. Orient yourself to the writers’ organization and what they typically write about. For example, if the publication never profiles CEOs, and you request a CEO profile, you instantly tell writers that you don’t know anything about their work. By contrast, if you are familiar with the writers and their work, you can start a conversation by commenting about a recent post or article. Everyone is human, and likes to know their work is noticed—that can set the stage for a more attentive conversation and can help you develop an ongoing relationship.
- Don’t keep up with current staff names. Keep your lists current. Identify the key journalists and analysts who cover your sector. If you are sending a press release to someone who left the company five years ago, it probably will never reach anyone at the organization.
- Have your CEO give a really sappy quote. Self-congratulatory quotes are a waste of time and air. If there are no calories in the quote, you need a new CEO.
- Fail to use spell check. You’ll undermine your credibility if your press release is slopy, ful of tyipos, and messy. Always ask someone else to read it before you hit “send.”
SHARE THE SERIES
Part 1: “How to Guarantee Your Startup Won’t Get News Media Attention.” http://stanford.io/1PUSqy8
Part 2: Dangerous Demos: http://stanford.io/1Q4oD9O
Part 3: “How to Not Alienate Journalists.” http://stanford.io/1Qgo4pO
Updated 10-17-16 to add