A PRESS RELEASE IS A MEANS TO AN END

Writing a press release can be a useful exercise because:

  1. Having a document written in a clear, unbiased way about a new announcement will help reporters get the story straight. Once a reporter has expressed interest in covering your news, sharing a press release can be a good way to brief them quickly about your work. Sending it before an interview, for example, will help make the conversation more efficient and focused on connecting, and less about getting the details straight and spelling your name right. 
  2. It can be useful if the journalist doesn’t have time for an interview but still wants to write about you. It can help them write their story; since it’s written in the third person, theoretically it makes it easy for them to borrow language directly from you, giving you the most control over the process.
  3. Internally, it’s a great exercise to go through in nailing down the key aspects of your story. As you get ready to approach journalists, it will be a helpful exercise especially for journalists you don’t know personally – it forces you to think about how to explain the story to strangers in a way that engages them.

PRESS RELEASE ALTERNATIVES

Keep in mind that a press release is for our purposes just a means to an end. It is a way to provide journalists with all of the relevant information in one place to make it as easy as possible for them to write the story and get it right.

With that in mind, many people (especially artists and start-up founders) feel uncomfortable writing a press release in the third person. It can feel impersonal and overly formal… 

So depending on your field, it may be more natural to create another kind of briefing material instead. Think about whether a press release makes sense for your announcement and your organization, or whether you could accomplish the same goals by:

  • publishing a blog post in the first person on your blog, Tumblr or Medium that you can share with journalists in advance
  • creating a newsletter that goes out to your readers

These options for briefing materials still enable you to go through the internal exercise of articulating your story, mission, etc., and have something concrete and polished to share with interested journalists, with the key information they need to write about your news accurately. 

TIPS FOR WRITING A PRESS RELEASE

Even if you decide not to write a press release, here are some tips for communicating your announcement in a way that will help the journalist understand it (and not turn them off):

Avoid bias. Try not to use hyperbole: stick to facts, statistics and your track record as much as possible. The quotation is where you can include opinion (or what isn’t credible to say without quotation marks).

Establish credibility. Give third-party validation – say you’re a TED Fellow, a Nat Geo Explorer, a Harvard PhD, anything that affirms your credibility.

Be concise. A press release shouldn’t be too long – ideally be one page, or no longer than two. 

Define the problem you are trying to solve. Make your announcement understandable by contextualizing it for a layperson, showing a) that your problem is worth solving and b) why your solution is well-positioned to solve it. 

Include a visual (if possible). Unless the story is for radio, the reporter will need an image to write the story. If possible, include any eye-catching photos/images/videos, either pasting it into the document or in an accompanying. 

Provide at least one quotation. A press release has at least one quotation, typically from one of the heads of the organization making the announcement. If important partners/investors are involved, some of them may also be quoted.

A REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE

Here was the actual press release that Dollar Shave Club, the razor blade subscription service, issued for their public launch out of beta in 2012.

Although this is a very specific use case (a consumer-tech company announcing a new product and funding) it’s a useful example for most startups in that it’s crystal-clear and is relatively short.

Dollar Shave Club Launches to Help Men and Women Shave Money and Time Off Grooming

New service delivers high-quality razors for 50% less than online retail stores in an effort to permanently eliminate razor blade sticker shock.

LOS ANGELES, CA, MARCH 6, 2012DollarShaveClub.com, a new membership service delivering high-quality shave razors to the doors of its members for as low as $1 a month plus shipping, today announces its launch out of private beta from Science Inc. and $1 million in seed funding co-led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Forerunner Ventures.

DollarShaveClub.com’s innovative model offers members regular monthly razor shipments, saving them as much as $300 per year on shaving. Other contributors to Dollar Shave Club's funding include Andreessen Horowitz, Shasta Ventures, Felicis Ventures, White Star Capital and investors Shervin Pishevar, Dennis Phelps and David Honig. Dollar Shave Club was co-founded in April 2011 by Michael Dubin and Mark Levine.

"Why should we pay $15-$20 for overly fancy brand name shave tech? It's unnecessary," said Michael Dubin, CEO of DollarShaveClub.com. "We want to shake up the way America buys its razors and put an end to the frequent drug store trips and exorbitant prices that have become all too familiar. The shave game has gotten totally out of control and it's time someone brought sanity back to the price and the process.”

Each Dollar Shave Club razor comes equipped with stainless steel blades, lubrication strips and a pivoting head. At launch, Dollar Shave Club members will be able to choose from three signature razors:

-The Humble Twin: a standard two-blade razor ($1/month, plus s+h)

-The 4x: a four-blade razor perfect for men’s or women’s hair removal needs ($6/month, shipping included)

-The Executive: a state-of-the-art six-blade razor ($9/month, shipping included)

A free razor handle comes with the first shipment and members can seamlessly upgrade and downgrade between razors whenever they choose.

Recent data from the U.S. National Association of Shoplifting Prevention underlines the high cost of shave razors and accessories. In their 2011 end of year report, razor blades were listed among the five most shoplifted items of the year alongside laptops, smartphones and high-end bottles of alcohol, among other expensive items. [...]

The company will introduce additional men's and women’s grooming products before the end of the year.

About Dollar Shave Club

The Dollar Shave Club is an online membership club that delivers premium grooming products at unbeatable prices. With shave packages that start at $1 a month plus shipping, the company will soon expand to offer a suite of grooming products for men and women. Dollar Shave Club was founded in April 2011 by Michael Dubin and Mark Levine, and is backed by technology studio Science, Inc. For more information about Dollar Shave Club, visit http://www.dollarshaveclub.com.

GETTING STARTED

Remember those pre-launch questions you answered on page 5? Great, because they will help you get a pretty decent draft of your press release done in relatively little time. 

To get started, copy and paste those answers into a new document, review the above press release tips to get any other ideas out of your head and onto the paper, and shape them into a press release using the following structure:

  • Headline - what are you announcing and who should care? 12 words or less. 
  • Subhead - additional top-line info about the news, including impressive stats or awards
  • Opening paragraph - what what the announcement is - Give a two-sentence description of what you or your organization is announcing.
  • Paragraphs with more detail - about your organization, the news, how the service/product works, etc.
  • Quotation(s) - subjective statements that can’t credibly be made without quotation marks: why the head of the organization, or a partner/investor, is excited about this announcement, what makes the product/initiative stand out, etc.
  • Final paragraphs - with any remaining info
  • Boilerplate - paragraph about your organization, including the mission, founding year and location, founder name(s), important partners/milestones/investors/awards, funds raised, website URL