Do It Yourself PR for Startups

DIY PREvery day, hundreds of press releases are sent to the media with the hope of stimulating free media coverage. However, most wind up being deleted for various reasons (irrelevant, uninteresting, full of errors, generic). Your odds can be greatly improved with some knowledge, planning, creativity, and a bit of luck. And yes, like most things you can learn to Do It Yourself.

Whether you are running a coworking space, a consulting firm, or a photography studio, some PR (a.k.a. free media coverage) can undoubtedly help generate buzz, attract new clients, improve your SEO and build influence.

Many small businesses don’t have the budget or expertise in this area and often forego PR altogether. The good news is that with a bit of know-how, you can, in fact, do it yourself. Let’s get started with the basics: what’s your news?

The News & The Angle

Be sure you have a good reason for contacting the media. For instance, a new product launch, a partnership announcement, a Kickstarter campaign, are all good reasons.

Next, you need to get creative with the angle- how to position the story so that it has the highest chance to get covered. Let’s say you are a new photographer in town trying to get some media coverage. What sounds more exciting to the media and readers “Parisian Photographer arrives to Hong Kong and establishes a new studio” or “French Photographer Takes One Photo in Hong Kong Everyday and the result is Incredible.”

When thinking about the angle for your press release approach it from the reader’s prospective. Here are some ideas to help you brainstorm a few possible angles:

  • Important: Why would your readers care about this story?
  • Impactful: How might your news impact your readers?
  • Innovative: Is there something in your story that’s innovative or hasn’t been done before?
  • Current: Can you relate your story back to current news, either locally or globally?
  • Trendy: Can you tie your story to a current trend?
  • Problem Solver: Does your business solve a problem?

Press Release Format

There are two types of press releases: one is a collection of facts and statements that the editor pieces together, and the second is pretty much a finished article. Many publications are short-staffed, so the story-type press release may be printed as is with very few changes.

Limit your press release to one page. It should be long enough to cover the six basic elements: who, what, when, where, why and how. Usually the answers to these six questions should be mentioned in order of their importance to the story.

To ensure readability, your press release should usually follow the standard format: typed, double-spaced with a letterhead. On the left-hand side, put “For immediate release.” Just below, write a brief, eye-catching headline in bold type, and a dateline that leads into the first sentence of the release.

Grammar & Buzzwords

It goes without saying that grammar and spelling should be foolproof (though that’s often not the case in many press releases). Keep the buzzwords to a minimum and words like “cutting-edge, outstanding, leading, innovative, gorgeous, etc.” are rarely part of the reporter’s story, so cut them out and instead stick to the facts and the storyline.

A Great Headline

You only have one shot at the subject line, so make it good. Use action verbs, clear language, and keep it simple and short. A perfect headline is engaging and gets the reader to continue.

Give Facts

It’s easy to fill up a page with a creative and colorful narrative, yet numbers and facts speak lauder then adjectives. If you’re making a claim, make sure you support it with hard facts. Offer details here that strengthen your narrative, like creative ways your company developed the project or announcement at hand. Or, when applicable, comment on future implications of your announcement.

Some Quotes

Once you’ve set the scene, it’s time to bring your details to life with a quote and give a human element to the press release.

Ideally, quotes will be from key stakeholders in your company (you and your partners), or alternatively those directly impacted by your announcement. Pick 1-2 critical spokespeople and focus the quotes around their unique perspective. The chosen quote should shape your narrative and emphasize the core of the announcement.

Don’t Forget the Photos

The release should ideally come with a link to print-ready and web-ready photos.

So now that your press release is ready, whom do you send it to?

PR OpportunitiesGathering Contacts

Many publications (like SCMP or China Daily) list journalists’ names and email addresses next to the published article. If they’re not shown, you can usually work out the email format by looking at advertising emails that are listed. Alternatively, some social networks like LinkedIn can be extremely useful to get through to the right reporter.

Steer clear of generic email addresses, ([email protected] or [email protected]) as in many cases these are not checked regularly or at all. Make it your mission to get the name and email address of the person who will make the decision about whether to use your story or not. If in doubt, just call up and ask.

Many make the mistake of approaching a reporter right after he has written a story they wish to have been included in, assuming he is an easy target for the follow up piece. In fact, that reporter is the least likely person in the world to write such a follow-up story. Allow at least a few months in between, or if you still decided to contact him shortly after his piece has been published, make sure you have something very valuable to add.

It’s also a good idea to ask around and get introductions to journalists from people you already know. One of the most amazing cases of “asking around” was that of a friend’s friend who wanted to promote her matchmaking business through the media. She made a post on her Facebook page saying she’d appreciate an introduction to Hong Kong media for a chance to give her commentary or opinion on family life, couple psychology, and related topics. One of her Facebook friends was newly in charge of a new “blind date” TV program on TVB, so a few weeks after her Facebook post, she was a relationships expert in what turned out to be a very popular local TV show. As you can expect, her business boomed after this. So, just ask.

Follow up

It’s fine to offer the same story to different publications as long as you’re upfront about what you’re doing. If a journalist is interested in your story, he or she will generally get back to you within a couple of days. But in a busy newsroom, stories can get missed, so you might consider chasing up your pitch by phone.

Whether you run a product-centric startup or have a great service to offer, the truth is all businesses need PR. By now you are well equipped to write and distribute your own press releases. So roll up your sleeves and get going! Remember that in addition to helping you get media exposure, PR also helps you get valuable links to your website, which are crucial for SEO.

By Ashley Galina Dudarenok, the founder of Alarice International, a China market-entry consultancy,

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