Doing your own PR as a startup, and how to write a press release

A few weeks back I spoke at one of Stylist Magazine’s Stylist Network events, which focused on building a world-famous business. While these have formerly focused on vertical sectors, the team told me that at each event they’ve held, how to promote a business, pitch to journalists and write a press release were issues that come up time and time again.

Joining me on the panel was beauty pioneer Jo Malone, who after selling her namesake brand to Estee Lauder in 1999 and remaining at the helm till 2006 founded Jo Loves ( last year. She gave an utterly inspirational talk about the four key things she thought were vital to every entrepreneur (summed up wonderfully by Maggie here). Also on the panel was Eimear Lambe, Twitter’s small-business expert, who provided an intro to using the social platform as a startup, and Olivia Phillips, senior fashion assistant for Stylist, who gave the crowd the lowdown on pitching the mag.

I did a short session on the five things every startup could do for themselves in terms of PR, but couldn’t resist cheating a little and packing in more than that. Giving advice on practical things businesses can do to promote themselves is one thing, but without a plan and a goal, you might be putting your energy into the wrong things.

The two slides I showed the crowd are below; the first contains the six questions most agencies will want to answer before building a PR strategy, so as a business-owner you could do this yourself, the second is a snapshot of some basic tactics that can then be applied to start building buzz. Typically I’d rave about Twitter, but Eimear pretty much had that locked down 🙂

After the Q&A (which was full of questions, lovely to see) we broke off into separate groups. I took three sessions on writing a press release, with my advice covering the following:

  • A press release is really just a way to send out information, but you can turn this into anything you like. While the most typical format for this for a PR agency is to write a release, a business owner might just want to send out a few emails to key contacts, or tweet a few journalists to meet for a coffee. Don’t be constrained to a traditional press release structure, and do what’s appropriate for your business. There’s no ‘doing it wrong’ in this respect.
  • Ask yourself if you really need to write the release before you do so. Is what you’re saying really new/interesting/newsworthy? Why will people care? Key influencers get sent hundreds of emails a day with releases or pieces of news in, so yours will have to stand out.
  • What will the headline be of the news story a blogger or journalist will write after they receive your release? Take that and make it the headline of your release.
  • Don’t send your release as an attachment, instead copy & paste in plain text into your email using the pitch template at the bottom of this page. It’s a controversial one, since some people don’t actually mind attachments – but on the whole, most journalists and bloggers tend to dislike them as the excess file size clogs up their inboxes.
  • The same goes for pictures. This splits opinion, but to be safe, it’s better not to send any in your first pitch but have high resolution, good quality images available to send immediately when requested.
  • When pitching, don’t waste your email subject with pointless additions like ‘breaking news’ (it’s not ‘breaking’ if you’ve had time to write a press release about it)
  • Don’t use vague terms like ‘leading’ or ‘highly scalable’ – they add nothing to your release and anyone using it to write a story will only strip them out anyway, so don’t waste your time
  • Try not to make tenuous links to current affairs. While I’m all for being seasonal and topical, unless there’s a natural link between your product and a high profile news event, any release that ties the two together is just an awkward read
  • Last but not least, don’t send a release and then be out of reach/go on holiday. It’s a wasted opportunity if someone does get back to you.

While talking this through, I also drew a diagram of the layout of a typical email pitch, which I also thought might be useful to mock up again and share (see below!)

All in all, I had a great time on the night and those I spoke to felt the same. You can find out more business-focused advice and the latest on Stylist Magazine’s events here.

2 responses to “Doing your own PR as a startup, and how to write a press release”

  1. Suds

    Great advice Vikki! What are your suggestions on how to get through to bloggers?

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