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The Power Of The Press Release: 10 Steps To Launch Success

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This is a guest post by Ben Harvell, an online editor turned pro copywriter. More about him at the bottom of this post.

In my previous life as a editor of iCreate Magazine, I used to pass as many press releases as I could to my team. Why? Because the majority of them were so mind-numbingly dull – about as engaging as a seminar on paint drying.

Some of them shared news of incredible new inventions, software and ground-breaking technologies, but they came in the same tan corduroy outfit as all the others. I’d rather have someone else sift through the mud to find the gold.

Every now and then, a press release arrived in the mail. We laughed at the old fashioned delivery but, ultimately, we probably paid more attention to them because they, perhaps unwittingly, did the job they needed to do – be different.

You’re probably thinking “Tell me something I don’t know. My press release needs to stand out, I get it!”, but that’s not the whole story. There’s more than one way to craft a unique release and, in most cases, glitter isn’t the answer…

Crafting Your Message

The key is to hit a few essential buttons and appreciate who it is your release is talking to. Granted, they’re normally geeks, but these are geeks with an agenda, people who understand everything you’re talking about but need to spin it in a way that excites and makes sense to their audience. Unless, that is, you’ve already done most of the job for them…

A catchy headline is a given. “Blah blah Ltd revolutionises the blah blah market with its new blah blah app” is the exact antithesis of revolutionary. I got a release from iPhone Life Magazine recently that bore the title: “Don’t drop your iPhone in the toilet”. I had to read that one.

The headline is the grabber, followed by a brief summary, a location and a date.

At this point, it’s also worth bearing in mind that your release isn’t necessarily hitting the screen of a bona fide journalist either. Bloggers, very keen consumers and weird algorithm-based websites also receive and spit out your copy, so make sure that your original release is as good as the version someone reworks or regurgitates. 

So, how do you make a release stand out, aside from an outrageous headline? I’m so glad you asked…

1) The Pyramid

Following on from your catchy title, using a technique used by most new outlets is your next go to method. Think of the release as a pyramid or triangle. The point of your release appears at the top. Then a little wider detail and then the additional information fills out the bottom. Simple, yes. Effective? Definitely.

A journalist will be able to know all they need about your product by simply reading the headline and first couple of sentences, then jump straight to the bottom of it for availability and pricing where needed. Sometimes that’s all they have room for. Be thankful for the coverage.

2) Finding A Niche

Unless you’re really lucky, your app is bound to be very similar to one or more apps that already exist. The fact is, however, they can’t be identical, which is where you can build your niche. Just as you do when coming up with keywords for app stores, differentiating your app from the others and playing to its strengths is essential. Explaining in your release that your app is “like -insert rival app here – on crack” just reminds everyone that the other app exists. If you don’t know why your app is special, then nobody else will.

3) Think Like A Writer…

As I mentioned before, your release is landing in the crowded inbox of a person who has a lot of stuff to fill. They need to fill their blog or website, fill their column inches, fill their social media feeds – all of their job responsibilities – so they can fill their pockets and their stomachs. Believe me, having been one of them, I know that journalists love it when you make a hole easier to fill, which is why I like to include ABSOLUTELY everything they might need in the release. This doesn’t mean you need to write War and Peace, however, simply think of every conceivable question a reporter might ask if they were sitting opposite you in a Starbucks with a tape recorder on the table, then add in as many of those details as you can. It’s kinda’ fun to do too.

Technical details are fine and dandy, they have to be there, but the more personal aspects matter as well. Why did you decide to make this app? The bigger companies can’t truthfully respond with much more than “we thought it would make us some money”, but you’ve probably got a better reason. The app did something that you always wanted, it stopped your kid messing with your phone, let you pay bills on time, reminded you to put the toilet seat down (or up, depending on your gender). Whatever it is, even if money is your primary goal, work on the “inspiration” behind the idea.

4) Timing Is Everything

When you send out your press release can play a major role in its coverage chances. If it’s a must-have holiday app, make sure you have the release delivered by October at the latest. Round-up and seasonal issues fill up quickly. The same goes for the opposite time of year. If your app is more warm season-focused, get the release out in early spring, if not earlier, for a chance to make the summer editions. In both cases, highlighting the fact that your app is ideal for inclusion in holiday shopping guides or any other type of article doesn’t hurt. Just don’t go overboard.

On a smaller scale, think about your target audience and their time zones when you come to send your release. If need be, split your mailing list into time zones so you can catch everyone during their working day and not risk being mass deleted as part of a swathe of overnight emails – Mail Chimp has this functionality built in. Don’t be tempted to hit the 8AM slot, either. Imagine how little focus you normally have when you’ve just sat at your desk and before you’ve had coffee. Aim for mid-morning or mid-afternoon to play it safe. 

5) ABQ: Always Be Quoting

Adding your own voice to the mix is a bonus. Quotes go a long way to explain why you’re passionate about your product, and they offer added insight to a reader. A journalist, even a good blogger, isn’t going to use your release verbatim, but what they can’t change is your quote. At the end of the day, it’s thirty or so words they can legitimately copy and paste into a story and don’t have to write. Another hole filled.

6) …And Be Social

Consider including a trimmed down version of your whole release for submission to Facebook and the like. A nice, snappy version is just the sort of nugget a writer may need for a blank spot in one of their updates, especially for social media. Yes, that might mean condensing the whole thing down to 140 characters so it can be tweeted. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t include a link to the full release or your website. 

Promotions of any kind are also a good idea, and help websites and magazines promote themselves while promoting your app. Major publications are likely to have more Twitter followers and Facebook Likes than you do, so get your app on their feed if you can. Offer up redeem code giveaways where possible, and even links to exclusive content if it’s good enough.

Tech Focus

Aside from the words, there are technical considerations when it comes to an effective press release. Most of the major pitfalls can be avoided by using a decent mailing service such as MailChimp or Campaigner (my favorite), and if you do intend to take the DIY approach, here are some things to consider:

7) Don’t Get Attached To Attachments

I personally don’t like getting attachments with a release and I don’t like sending releases with attachments either. Attachments appear differently on different computers and devices, they can mess up your layout and, in the worst case, mean your release never makes it to the address you sent it to. If you absolutely feel it necessary to include an image or another attachment type, host it in the cloud and put a link to it in your release.

8) Use An Email Service

Taking a lot of the hassle out of sending a press release, services like Campaign Monitor, help boost efficiency, provide stylish templates and also provide monitoring options to help you understand how well your message was received, or if it was read at all. This can be a major asset when announcing a product but you should make sure you’ve gathered a pretty sizeable mailing list in order to make the most of these services. 

9) Cover Your Tracks – BCC

If you do end up sending out your press release without using a mail service, make sure not to include all of the addresses you’re contacting in the To: field. Use the BCC line in your email client or create a group of contacts so the individual email addresses aren’t shown to everyone that receives your release. I see this happen by accident at least once a month when a good but careless PR person hits Send too quickly. I’ve even received an internal draft of a mailout, complete with questions for a superior on tone and message. Those who are involved in this sort of slip-up tend not to be greatly impressed. That said, there’s no better way to guarantee that someone reads a release than if you send another email retracting it, minutes after sending. That’s a fairly extreme option, however.

Of course, if you have the time, there’s nothing better than personalizing a release for each recipient. If only there was more time…

10) And Finally, Be Honest, Be Different, Be Heard

With all of the above in place, alongside an incredibly rigorous spelling and grammar check, the biggest key is content. Honesty, sincerity and a little bit of humour go a long way toward engaging the reader. If you can make your release as enjoyable to read as possible, people will be less inclined to skim. 

If there are limitations to your app, don’t focus on them but by all means mention them if you feel it’s important. Reporters, journalists and bloggers like nothing more than hunting down holes in a product, after all that is part of their job. If you have been upfront from the outset and perhaps mention that a future update will remedy or improve the experience, those reading your release will feel more invested in the experience rather than think they’ve caught you out.

Putting It All Together

To help you get a sense of what all of this looks like, here’s a press release I wrote for a client of mine:

Press Release Sample

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Courtesy of The Toddler Lock app – www.thetoddlerapp.com

Ben Harvell

About the author: Ben Harvell is a freelance copywriter, former editor of iCreate magazine and founder of Pocket Copy, a professional copywriting service for mobile app developers. Catch him on Twitter through @benharvell or @p0cketc0py.