The secret of inexpensive, inefficient press releases revealed

I'm going to save you thousands of dollars on a common marketing practice. And you probably won't like what I have to tell you.

I'm going to save you thousands of dollars on a common marketing practice. And you probably won't like what I have to tell you.

If you are like most companies, especially young start ups, there comes a moment that you believe you Wallet_Chain_iStock_000007692365XSmall
need to let your customer base know about your latest business deal, technology breakthrough, or product update that is industry leading and the quote says your “CEO is pleased to announce it”. The only problem; you spent your entire marketing budget on a trade show booth and brochures, so you don't have the money to put on a real marketing program to reach your customer base. That's the moment that you decide to put out a press release.

My 20 years of experience writing and distributing press releases tells me this is what you can expect:

It will take weeks to get it ready to go, and you will spend 90 percent of the time on the headline, the quote from the CEO (which is almost always the same) and the rambling paragraph at the end of the release called "the boilerplate." The release will end up to be a minimum of 3 pages long, single-spaced in 10 point type. If you are "web savvy" it will be stuffed with key words. If not, the distribution service you choose will identify the key words for you. Then you will look for a PR pro to reach out to the press on your behalf, all the while believing the entire process will cost a few hundred dollars. This when sticker shock kicks in: Cost of:

  • A real PR pro to use his contact base - $2000

  • Release distribution service to a nationwide circuit - $3,000

  • Man-hours of your team to write the release - 40 (your CFO can determine what that cost is specific to your particular company)

  • Printing 1000 copies of the release to hand out at the trade show - $2000 at Kinkos, including staples

Most companies, hearing this price tag and after the CFO has been brought back to consciousness, will find ways to cut the bill. The first thing to go will be the PR pro. He might be replaced by a 25-year-old publicist recently out of college, looking for full time work, who will spend 20 hours researching and bugging journalists she's never met to talk to your CEO. She'll do it for $500 and flirt with the marketing VP who will suggest the company hire her to be a receptionist.

The next thing to go will be the high-end, reputable wire service for a cut rate service that will do the job for $2,000 (or worse yet, you could go with one of the hundreds of free distribution services available) but with a less extensive reporting system, a less extensive distribution list. And upon reflection, maybe you only need 100 copies of the release for the trade show. So you’ve got it down below $2500, not counting the man-hours it took to come to this decision. If you choose to stop there you can guarantee that when you do the web search for the release it will show up on every news site in the world, including the weekly shopper in Akron, Ohio. But if that’s still a little pricier than you want, a little bit of knowledge about how wire services work can really cut the price.

Every wire distribution service has circuits that restrict distribution to the San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York metropolitan areas. Pick one, because every news agency you really care about has a feed coming from those areas (including the shopper in Akron), but the cost is less than $500, including some analysis service add-ons. But you aren't out of the woods, yet.

Every respectable distribution service out there limits the amount of the news release to approximately 400 words. There will be a $50 fee for every 100 words over the limit.  Your approved draft is running at about 2500 words so your overage fee will be around $700. You are under $2,000, but we can tweak a bit more.

Even if your publicist gets a dozen journalists to talk to you (more likely it will be one) and even if you see it gets run on the websites of thousands of online sites, a careful perusing of your metrics after one month will show around 500 people will actually open up the release. More than half will be the marketing and sales people from your company and the marketing and sales people from your competitors. About a quarter of them will be click farms on the Indian subcontinent. About 15 percent will be spammer scraping the page for email addresses and about 10 percent will be actual journalists. An even closer perusal of the metrics will find one journalist will actually spend more than 5 seconds reading it. And within 6 months, a potential customer might also find it. That is what I discovered doing press releases and watching metrics of companies from billion-dollar multinationals to startups.

Sometimes, when it is actually newsworthy, the results are better, but that’s what you get, in general. So why go to the trouble if that’s all you get? Because it will boost your SEO, it will give you content for your website and it will make your investors and executives feel good about themselves because they see the company name on the interweb tubes.

But you say ego gratification is not worth that cost? So let’s cut it even more. Remember how I said you would spend most of the time on the headline, quote and boilerplate? Forget the quotes. All journalists (your target audience after all) know they are contrived. That will cut 200 words. Reduce the boiler plate to “For more information go to www…..” with a phone number. Make sure the URL goes to a landing page where you can gather information from whoever visits. That cuts another 200 words. Reduce the headline to one line (25 words gone). The lead paragraph should be no more than 50 words (cutting another 200). Stop talking about how you are an industry leader (real leaders never have to say they are) which cuts about 1000 words. Just give the basic information. That should take you below the 400-word limit.

Cut the publicist altogether, no matter how cute she is, but stick with a reputable service like BusinessWire or PRNewswire. You will look more professional. You are now under $1000 for the entire project and will get the exact same result you would have seen for thousands of dollars more.

Now go out and be that cheap, inefficient company we all know you can be.