Press Releases

It is possible to get masses of magazine reviews of products and even half-page articles in major broadsheets for products with no marketing budget. Having something interesting to say, clearing the idea with the journalists in advance, and sending the press releases (and occasionally following up with telephone or face-to-face interviews) pays off. Use them. They cost only your time and a few phone calls and stamps.

Build in Credibility before You Start

If your product has anything really new about it, people will quickly realize that it's a good idea. Even so, most will not be able to make the final and logical leap to purchase until they can see that someone has landed safely on the other side first. Unless personal belief is converted into credibility, there are very few sales, especially where people are buying on behalf of their boss.

Good case studies are gold dust. The Dymo range of handheld labelers were first promoted to the public in Britain and very nearly failed. Dymo then decided to switch their thrust towards business users. On the back of four case studies, within 18 months they were trading strongly and expanding into Europe. Within another four years they had sown up the entire European professional market and were powerful enough to go again for domestic sales. This time they succeeded. Dymo is now part of Esselte, which is one of the top 100 U.S. corporations.

The secret of effective endorsements is to get good ones—believable statements from believable people. A.N.Other from Wisconsin or Joe Bloggs from Tonbridge Wells isn't good enough for you. (Dymo got user case histories the caliber of Ford.) Endorsees need to be people who you would take notice of yourself. Each endorsee need cover only one aspect of your product's benefits and should speak at a person-to-person level. Never use any endorsement without the author's permission.

Incidentally, it is inadvisable to give software away to gain an endorsement. It makes the recommendation hollow. In any case, people who don't pay for software rarely use it or value it properly. If endorsees don't use your product, they cannot be used. It's wiser, however tempting it is to take shortcuts, to sell your product at the standard price and then find some other way to express a personal "Thank you."

How to Write a Press Release

Many of us have been on the receiving end of clumsy press releases that are passed on as received, complete with excessive, superfluous statements. So when it is your turn, you will want to provide an interesting story and give your journalists some worthwhile lines to quote. It should also include all the bread and butter facts:

♦ Company name, address, e-mail, and telephone numbers

♦ A headline (to sum up the story engagingly)

♦ The story itself

♦ Release date (or embargoed until)

Most journalists will tell you they do not want an article from you. Writing the article is their job. Your job is supplying the facts. Yet, when you follow this advice, you can often be dismayed to find your notes reprinted verbatim. At other times you may find your release notes transformed beyond all expectations. My advice is to write your release in factual note form but organize the items, paying particular attention to their order, so they are interesting to read anyway. Then if your journalists are in a rush and your piece is well written, they will occasionally run it almost unaltered.

Facts are the building blocks that journalists need to write any piece, so include as many as possible. This way individual journalists are more likely to come up with quite different pieces, giving the avid reader a useful spectrum of views of your product. So compare your product with others, if it has new features explain their benefits, and cite well-known users if you can. Include a few quotes only if they are strong and memorable.

Journalists typically require two months' notification for monthly publications and two weeks' weeklies. Dailies rarely review software unless they are mass-market products or there is some human interest such as the help it offers to the disabled. Because of these lead times, press releases are usually one of the first items that need to be tackled when you prepare a launch. It can also be useful to put PDFs of press releases on your Web site under the Press section for journalists to download. You'll be amazed how many articles can appear from this without you having to do anything more.

Many releases offer headlines that say little more than "XYZ Inc. launches new product"—that's really going to have them digging for their wallets! On the other hand, a line like "XYZ Inc. launches mobile Internet GPS Terminal, helps first blind climbers to top of Everest" may set journalists scrambling in several directions. It also provides a readymade headline for hard-pressed journalists.

Always keep a record of which press release went to which journalists and what coverage resulted. If certain journalists aren't touching your stuff, just phone them and ask them why. They'll be very candid. If it's a no-go, find another contributor to the publication who is sympathetic.

Ideally, press releases should be no longer than two pages. Three is pushing it. Accompany them with photographs whenever possible, preferably in the electronic format JPEG (for publishing quality definition).

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