Pitching a press release is so passé. Columnist Patrick Armitage explains why writing a candid and authentic blog post will make a bigger impact than falling back on old PR methods.
Now that we’ve established how social and mobile are completely changing the traditional desktop, website and content experience, it’s time to rethink the press release.
We are now in a post-gatekeeper era of publicity and PR.
The gatekeepers are no longer the editors and reporters of magazines and newspapers. The “gatekeeper” doesn’t exist anymore.
The brand is the gatekeeper. No longer does a new product launch require a pitch letter and an intern to reach out to a list of editorial contacts — spraying and praying for a response.
Companies and key influencers with an established online presence often have more reach than the publications they pitch
Take Jason Fried, founder and CEO of Basecamp. His Twitter followers outnumber readers of many industry publications. That’s one data point. But when you add his Twitter followers to the 91K following him on Medium and the 24K following his company’s blog, he’s built up quite the distribution network for his company and its product updates.
And it’s not just the sheer number of Fried’s followers. It’s who’s following him. The magnitude of influence eclipses the effectiveness of old PR and distribution tactics.
Relevance > reach
So let’s start with Basecamp (formerly 37Signals). They started blogging long before it became de rigueur. And they built a following before words like “content marketing” and “inbound marketing” even existed.
It’s a testament to the discipline required to maintain a blog. Fried and Basecamp can now reap the benefits of that discipline announcing new products, like Basecamp 3, through their own channels and letting the market run with it.
Getting publicity in mainstream outlets isn’t a thing anymore. Mainstream doesn’t move the needle like it once did.
Readers have cocooned themselves in their algorithmically curated Facebook feeds, Twitter lists, Nuzzel accounts and e-newsletters to the point that “mainstream” doesn’t mean anything anymore. People order and consume media from their own menu.
Famed podcaster Adam Carolla mentioned that his appearances on “The Tonight Show” didn’t move sales for whatever he was pitching like it did when he appeared on significantly smaller podcasts but with a more relevant audience. That shouldn’t be a surprise to any savvy marketer.
Audiences are so fragmented that companies have no choice but to fall in line. Pitching your press release to The Wall Street Journal, although nice and ambitious, won’t make an impact if your readership is elsewhere (or if you’ve built a dedicated readership through content and social, like the Basecamp folks).
Old vs. new
If you’re launching a new product or company, and you’re not excited enough to write an impassioned piece about it… what’s the point?
Here’s what I mean.
Coffee professional Tony Konecny wrote a piece brilliantly titled: “Anthony Bourdain’s Shade Thrown Coffee.”
I’ve never met Konecny; I didn’t follow him on any social channels (I do now), but this is the thing with new PR:
Konecny has 1.2K followers on Medium and 5.4K on Twitter. By no means the reach of Fried and Basecamp. But his piece was recommended by Medium’s staff. Note: They have four mah-mah-million followers.
I don’t have the actual stats behind the views and readership of the piece. But I don’t think it matters. What stood out for me was the candidness and (ugh, this word) authenticity of the piece. For example:
Where I differ with the overwhelming majority of my colleagues is that I don’t believe the coffee Anthony Bourdain drinks at the corner store needs to suck. Many, perhaps most, of the people I know (and love) inside the coffee trade subscribe to an insidious and terrible fallacy: that most daily coffee drinkers lack the good taste to appreciate good coffee. That the great masses of consumers getting ripped off to the tune of billions of dollars on overpriced nespresso capsules, or the folks lined up daily for dirty, defect-laden, stale brews at the corner bodega just aren’t our people. Good coffee belongs among the enlightened sophisticates. The pervasiveness of this central bullshit fallacy is probably the biggest single reason why craft coffee continues to lag so far behind craft beer in mass market acceptance.
And the beauty of the post: The pitch is buried. Because the pitch isn’t the point. Addressing the problem is first. The solution, second. The pitch, third. And even then, I wouldn’t even call it a “pitch” per se. It’s pitch as modest shrug:
Enter LocoL Coffee. I’m not saying my current coffee project with Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson is bent on world domination or is coming to a corner store near you or anything like that. Nor am I suggesting that any of my colleagues in the coffee industry should attempt to replicate our food and beverage pricing model in their very different business contexts… that would be insane. But, unecumbered by the usual pretenses and baggage, we are sourcing really excellent beans from really skilled producers, roasting and blending them extremely well, and brewing them correctly. The results, so far, we’re pretty proud of.
Press releases are definitely not like this. Press releases are canned statements by the CEO or marketing person, usually written by someone else, and have been meticulously edited, proofed and rewritten to suck the personality out of the company and the life out of the product. Don’t believe me?
Looks for a random press release on PR Newswire… Here’s one! (I swear, I spent two minutes finding this.)
Here are the pull quotes.
“Yerba Mate has been enjoyed in South America for hundreds of years because of its energizing qualities,” said Mandy Mazzeo, Marketing Manager, Brisk. “Brisk Mate gives Brisk fans what they’ve been asking for, a smooth, energizing iced tea with the great-tasting, bold flavors they expect from Brisk.”
“The Brisk Mate brand reflects the same sense of community and energy that our members share,” said Hector Rodridguez, owner of OpTic Gaming. “The smooth, energizing spark and light uplift from Brisk Mate is the perfect refreshment for our team as we head into this year’s competitions.”
Please tell me these people don’t really talk like this. Does Mandy honestly sip tea, turn to her girlfriends and say, “Ahhh! The great-tasting, bold flavors I’ve always expected from Brisk.”
Read that press release, and then read Konecny’s piece. His is the new press release: funny, insightful, helpful, and damn near a mission statement for his company. You can build on that. People will follow you (I did).
Anatomy of a successful blog post (née press release)
- Address a problem.
- Write about the solution.
- Pitch and/or launch company.
Nick Kokonas, owner of three of the most lauded restaurants in the world, wrote a blog post titled simply: “Tickets for Restaurants.”
The post breaks down, in exhaustive detail, the inefficiencies of the traditional reservation system and presents an alternative solution: tickets.
This is my attempt to outline exactly what we’ve done with restaurant tickets, why it’s interesting, and the results of the experiment… along with real data from our restaurants. People tend to treat business data as something that shouldn’t be shared, but I don’t really see the harm in openly examining the data. So the numbers provided are the real numbers from Alinea, Next and the Aviary.
This post hid nothing about what’s wrong with the reservation process, what he and his company are doing to solve it, and what the results are. Companies are so afraid to share anything for fear that their competitors will steal their idea.
Fried explains it in his Chicago Convergence talk, a must listen for any small business thinking about getting publicity for their business.
Some choice quotes:
“It’s really expensive to break out and get known… Of course, you can hire a PR firm for five to 15 or 20 thousand dollars a month, which is a waste of money, I wouldn’t do that… What I think you should be doing is thinking about how you can teach people about your domain.”
Watch the whole thing. Fried explains, better than I could, essentially what every example I cited did well. And Konkonas’ post is no exception.
Konkonas wrote a long-form blog post before long-form blog posts were even a thing. Way back in 2014.
He made the case for a ticketing system in place of the current, calcified reservation process. He shared real data, wasn’t afraid of critiquing competitors and made the case for a better way.
The post wasn’t just a proof point for a business idea; he was revealing data on a product that hadn’t even been formerly launched yet. In fact, the product’s name, Tock, doesn’t appear anywhere in the post. His “pitch” was a humble one.
And more amazingly, he didn’t start off his post pitching a product. Like Konecny, he started with a problem, explained the solution (with data), and only then, did he “pitch” a product. Here are the last two paragraphs:
Concurrently, we are rebuilding the entire system from scratch using what we’ve learned by selling over $60 million of restaurant tickets to patrons, having dozens of our staff members use the system, and feedback from our beta restaurants and our customers. I won’t give a date (I’ve learned that lesson), but when we launch our platform a restaurant will be able to integrate our ticketing and table management software with their website, on their own, in just an hour or two.
We welcome questions, analysis and feedback of all types and will do our best to provide more information.
Tock is now a viable business that some of the world’s most coveted restaurants use.
And it’s free
Here are your options for getting the word out about your product or business.
- Pay a PR firm thousands.
- Pay PR Newswire or some PR distribution firm for a one-off blast.
Or you can start writing about the problems you see in your industry. Share the things you’re working on to solve them. Write candidly. Write without paranoia. Write like no one’s reading (cheesy, but… ).
Just start writing. And no, this isn’t “free.” Writing is hard and takes time. But if you treat it like an investment and play the long game (long as in long-form blog post or long as in taking the time to build distribution), the results will pay off.
Konecny said it himself. He “didn’t intend [that post] to go viral. [It] was [a] genuine rant.” Ah, but it did. Not “Gangnam Style” viral, but more reach than he anticipated. Write about your passion and see. You never know.
And if you’re launching a product and want to test its viability, write the ultimate post on the problem and how you’re going to solve it. More personality and purpose are in the aforementioned examples than in any press release I’ve ever read… and when’s the last time you read a press release, anyway?
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.