When — If Ever — Should You Put Out a Press Release for Your Startup?
Press releases are the hoary old uncle of PR and communications. They might feel like a holdover from days gone by. Why not send a telegram using Morse code? And what even constitutes a press release these days — could it be a blog post, or a tweet?
Laugh all you want, but here’s the thing. Press releases still have specific strategic value.
Let me give you an example. A few months ago, the CEO of Precision Neuroscience contacted me. He works in the super wonky world of brain-computer interfaces, so you can control a computer with your mind. Write an email with your eyes closed, or, in a more improve-the-world sense, let people with physical disabilities to move mechanical limbs.
It’s still pretty early-stage, big-vision stuff. But they’ve got an incredible team with amazing backgrounds, and are getting impressive traction in terms of research progress.
The company had just raised a $12m Series B round and were looking to build their profile to impress potential hires.
These days, a $12m round barely gets you a mention in a tech newsletter, and bleeding-edge tech startups don’t get a lot of press coverage based on the vision they’re still working on. So news coverage was going to be a stretch.
This is where a press release can be extraordinarily valuable.
Valuable Pocket Litter
In the Cold War days, spies would carry what they called “pocket litter” to corroborate their cover story in case of capture. (Here’s a great internet rabbit hole to distract you from learning about press releases: a British WWII operation using pocket litter to fool the Nazis prior to the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily.) When you’re building a company, one of your first tasks is to convince potential investors, partners, customers, and employees that your company is “real.” What’s the first thing they’re going to do after hearing about you the first time? That’s right, type your name into Google.
This is where press releases can be valuable pocket litter to corroborate the story you told them about how amazing you are.
Back to Precision Neuroscience. I wrote and published the press release about their Series B. I just googled the company name and even months later, it’s the first thing that pops up:
The reason this works — and why it’s better than just publishing the news on your blog — is because the Domain Authority (DA) of a site like PRNewswire is way higher than the DA of your newly-established company URL. The DA of PRN is 92, which is extraordinarily high (the NYTimes has a DA of 94). The DA of your site is probably no higher than 30. Getting to 50 is an accomplishment. (Check yours here.) The high DA of established press release sites means that Google will rank the mention of your company on their site a lot higher than you could get on your own.
In other words, a press release allows you to buy Google visibility for relatively cheap — while controlling the message.
Is it better than getting flattering coverage from the Wall Street Journal? Of course not. But when you’re trying to build the profile of your company, it can be a fantastic way to build your company story for the people you’re trying to influence.
What is worth sharing?
Here are a few company milestones that can make great press release fodder:
Funding rounds: Your funding doesn’t have to be as big as the example I discussed above, but it should look impressive for wherever you are in your journey. (Note that small friends & family seed rounds are generally not that impressive.)
Key hires: When you hire a high-profile executive, it sends two messages: 1, the company was exciting enough to convince that individual to join, and 2, that the company will thrive with that person helping guide the ship.
New product releases: This is an announcement to a new customer segment or a substantial new service to an existing segment. Don’t dilute your impact crowing about incremental upgrades. Think about it from a customer perspective: Will this piece of information have a meaningful impact on your target audience if it pops up when they search for your company?
Participation at important industry events: A keynote at an industry conference, acceptance at an accelerator or incubator, or receipt of an industry recognition all fall into this category.
Note that all of the above examples revolve around a key piece of information that can shape a sharp headline and lead sentence. Press releases are not an opportunity to provide a rambling justification why your startup’s future is bright; Press releases allow you to highlight a key piece of corroborating evidence that contributes to your narrative of inevitable success. Look at my press release example above; all you need to see is the headline.
As you might expect, the importance of press releases declines as your company grows. But they remain an important way to get your story out, the way you want it told.
The #1 challenge of a startup is to appear bigger than it is. And press releases can be a valuable tool as you build your ‘cover story’ that you’re a unicorn just waiting to happen.