How to Write a Press Release for Tech Startups at Seed Stage
You've founded a startup, you've gotten pre-seed or seed funding, and you want to tell the world! But where do you start?
You’ve heard of a press release. Maybe you’ve even read one. Beyond that, you might feel a little clueless. How do you write a press release, specifically for a tech startup? What kind of information do you put in there? How long should it be? Who should you send it to? Do press releases still work or can you just Tweet your news and call it a day? For answers to these questions and more, we reached out to our good friend, Tom Lawrenece.
Tom is the founder and CEO of MVPR, a platform for automating traditional PR services for startups, including several of our portfolio companies. For the last nine years, Tom has worked within the PR industry to raise the profile of startups globally. After 18 months in operation, MVPR works with more than 85 companies across Europe and has partnered with Speedinvest, Octopus, BackedVC, the London Mayor’s Office, and more to provide PR software and support to scaling companies. Tom and his team are about to close a massively oversubscribed pre-seed (news they’ll share via a press release!), so he’s the perfect person to share tangible tips that will help you nail your big news announcement.
Watch our edited interview with Tom or read the full chat below.
We’re hearing from some founders who want to skip press releases and focus only on social media. What’s your response to that strategy? Are press releases still relevant in 2022? What can they actually do for a startup?
The short answer is yes, but it depends on what actions you want to drive in your audience, and who that target audience is. If you aren’t trying to drive customer acquisition, hires, interest from investors, and/or credibility amongst your stakeholders, then don’t announce it. Wait until you have a business outcome to drive and use the news in a productive way that can deliver ROI.
On whether to create a press release… A press release is just a medium for communicating something. I guess the question you’re really asking is: Is PR still relevant versus social media versus Google AdWords or advertising?
Predictable, high-growth marketing strategies rarely rely on just one marketing stream, which means you need to be using all the options you have available, as efficiently as possible. Each of your marketing streams should positively impact the others in some way, increasing awareness, reducing CAC or driving CTAs.
PR managed efficiently––dare I say, fully-automated––is an extremely low-cost way to generate a lot of interest from the majority of a company’s stakeholders, creating repeatable and predictable lead generation.
As with all news, I would think about your audiences and how they consume information first. Is the thing you want to say adding value to those audiences and what will they be able to do with the information you share?
For consumer-focused companies, for example, can they buy or use your product straight away?
For a B2B-focused company, is your solution available for others to try? Are there open positions within your team that you’d like to fill?
PR is a good way to reach broad audiences you otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Make sure you’re set up to get the most out of the content you share with them.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see startups making when it comes to writing a press release?
A press release is like a foot in the door. It's a bit like your initial meeting with a VC. It's less important to get under the fingernails and into the product in a substantial way. Any journalist worth their salt will want to dig into that with you if it's interesting enough for them to really write about. We often see companies try to send a three-page press release. You can't expect a journalist who receives 500 emails a day to read three pages of your press release. That's just not going to happen.
The second mistake we frequently see companies make is in the structure of the information they share. With funding announcements especially, include all of the most important information at the top of the release. We know that 80 percent of readers will only read the headline and first couple of paragraphs. Include the elements that will grab their attention the most in there.
When pitching journalists, much like an initial introduction to a VC, you need to get their interest. Give them some sound bites to take away so that when they tell somebody else, they can explain what you do, why it's relevant, and which audiences will be interested.
Above all, keep it short. A page of about 400-500 words is enough. And make sure that it's clear and doesn’t use industry specific terms or overly complex language. Don't write endlessly about your product. At this stage, it's more valuable to have something concise that's easily understood than to dig into depths of what your product does.
Lastly, remove as many of the adjectives as you can. We already know that it’s a groundbreaking, innovative, one-of-a-kind, market-leading, pioneering, fast-growing product that empowers customers. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be reading about it.
Could you share some practical, key tips for founders building their first press release to announce funding? How can they make their press release standout and actually get coverage?
This is a conversation we have a lot. We often sit at the intersection between VC funds and founders when they're doing partnership announcements. And often something that comes up is: How do we make this newsworthy?
The truth is, what makes something newsworthy for one journalist could be very different to what makes something newsworthy for another journalist.
When a journalist looks at your company and what you want to talk about, they're thinking, “Is this company providing something that's valuable for my audience?”
And if it isn’t, they’re not going to write about you. Publications have customers, too, and they’re thinking, “How do I get more subscriptions? How do I increase engagement and earn more ad revenue?”
You have to think about it from the journalist’s perspective. They’re running a business and are trying to build their own reputation, too. However, if you can show them that their audiences will be interested and that it’s a good fit, they are much more likely to write the story.
Make it clear who your product is for. We all know that using someone’s name in a cold email increases the likelihood that they read it. The same is true for job titles and industries.
As an example, of the two headlines below, headline A is always going to get less clicks than headline B, because it lacks relevance. Don’t leave people thinking, “Is this relevant for me?”
- “Company launches a solution to modernize existing legacy processes, making it 10x faster in the process.”
- “Company launches a product to modernize existing legacy processes for startup founders and VCs, making it 10x faster the process.”
If I’m a startup founder or a VC, I know that headline B is going to talk about something useful for me, or my industry. It grabs my attention.
You referenced before how journalists are busy and everyone wants to get featured in the same publications. Could you share some thoughts on how tech startups can set realistic expectations for press coverage? Because not everyone is getting into TechCrunch.
Not everyone should focus on getting into TechCrunch. TechCrunch is great credibility for future investors. Do I know investors that will scrape news platforms, like TechCrunch, Sifted, Tech.EU, Maddyness, and TechFundingNews in order to inform their deal flow? Yes. And should you aim to be in those publications for that reason? Yes.
However, if you're a consumer-focused company selling retail products, are your audiences likely to be reading TechCrunch? Probably not. Startup founders, VCs, and investors read TechCrunch for sure, but those audiences won’t always be the right ones for you.
On the other hand, say for example you’re a logistics software provider and you go to a niche, industry-specific publication that’s focused on freight infrastructure, and that's read by the people who are going to buy your product. That has the potential to be much more valuable.
Really it comes down to finding out who the right audience is for what you want to say.
Related Reading: What You Need to Know to Get Press Coverage at Seed Stage in 2022
But a lot of founders set their sights on something like TechCrunch or bust. And if that doesn't happen, what advice would you give to founders so they don’t lose hope and set realistic expectations in the future?
So here's what I would say about that. Just because a journalist doesn't want to write about you right now, doesn't mean they don't want to write about you ever.
Building relationships with journalists is not unlike building relationships with investors. It's not an all or nothing thing. It might seem like that, because your investors are putting pressure on you from above. And if you get published in certain publications, it's like a milestone that you've reached as a founder.
But it's really not about getting into a publication at a specific moment in time. It's very much about building relationships with the journalists over time and getting them bought into your story. And, yeah, I've seen plenty of examples where startups will really shoot for getting into Forbes and it won't happen for them. But then they work on their story, they build their own audience over time, they go off to other publications, they build that credibility for themselves, and then three or six months later, they get into Forbes.
If you've done no comms before at all, if you haven't communicated about your business, your expectations should be low. Make sure that the first step you take in communicating publicly is one that is low enough to get you off the ground. Write blogs, do interviews, and write thought pieces for smaller publications because journalists will look for your credibility as a source first. They want to see a track record. If you haven't got one, it's going to be really hard.
How is the art of writing a press release evolving? Are there some developments you’re seeing now that startups could adopt early to really stick out?
Honestly, not really, is the short answer. The point of having a press release is to convey as much information as possible as concisely as possible, in a way that's ingestible for journalists quickly.
Now, personally, I'm pushing to move away from the press release. There are only so many press releases you want to read in your life. In order to achieve lasting change though, publications and readers need to demand it.
There are publications that are doing interesting things. We work with a number of publications that are sharing information about companies in a new, different, exciting multimedia experience. People are looking at voice, people are looking at video, and product demos come into that as well.
But in terms of the way that the press release is currently written, I don't see much movement there yet. To reiterate my point above, though, the purpose of a press release is to share as much valuable information with a journalist as possible, as concisely as possible. Keeping information in one place and making it accessible to journalists so that they can quickly understand what you do and whether you’re relevant for their audience will make it easier for you or your company to get press coverage.
Click here to download a press release template from MVPR.
Can you pull back the curtain a little bit? How does MVPR automate PR without compromising the unique story of different tech startups?
I think if you look at where you need to begin from a comms perspective, I think a lot of people think that you need to begin with content. And that isn't true.
You need to begin with your own audiences, understand what they look like, and what the personas for those profiles look like for people who will literally buy your product. From there, the starting point for PR really is just research. You need to be looking at what your customers and stakeholders are reading and understand which journalists are writing about those topics. From there, you'll begin to have a good understanding of what your customers want to read and what helps them build trust in a product like yours. That's a really great place to start.
Once you understand that, it's then much easier to actually write content for those customers.
Increased automation is the dream for countless industries. How do you believe automating PR services has changed the PR industry, specifically for new tech startups?
It's brought down the barrier to entry and the cost. If you look at the industry as a whole, it's very difficult for freelancers and boutique agencies to provide competitive pricing on their time. Because for a freelancer, for example, it's difficult to think about more than, say, six or eight clients at any given one time. You need the headspace for it.
The same is true in agencies. And it means that it's actually not worth bringing on a client that's going to pay you less than, say, €3,500 a month, as a freelancer, because you can't give them the time that they need. It takes time to onboard, it takes time to get to understand the product. You have to speak in their tone of voice.
At an agency, I can tell you from experience, we didn't really look at companies that were going to pay us less than €10,000 a month, because the economics really only work well when you have clients with high retainers. It's just not worth looking at those kinds of smaller retainer companies.
And so by automating a lot of what currently is part of, let's be honest, a legacy-constrained industry, we're able to bring the cost down for companies, and importantly, allow them to move PR activities in-house without needing lots of extra resources.