Strong Opinions @marksbirch

Random thoughts from a NYC entrepreneur and investor about start-ups, technology and the people that make it all happen. Also find time for good tunes and good food.
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There are plenty of startups that do press releases.  They often run the gamut from key executive hires to funding announcements to product releases to major customer wins.  The idea is that such important events are obviously worth letting the world know about them.  The problem however is that the world does not really give two licks about your so called news.

The entire press release industry is built upon false promises and lots of big company inertia.  Big companies love press releases because they have various disclosure and regulatory requirements, so the distribution network provided by press release firms is a quick and dirty solution.  For small and mid-sized businesses, there is the promise of greater visibility of news and content in order to drive traffic.  The premise is that through their broad and deep network, businesses can target their messages to the right audiences and track this activity over time.

Pardon me if this sounds like an online advertising scheme, and one that is not necessarily a great deal.  In a world where there is AdWords, Facebook Ads, and a host of online advertising engines / networks available, it is hard to understand what value is added by the press release distribution system.  While the links created from all the websites the press release is distributed to creates decent linking building for search engines, potential customers are not clicking the those links and heading to your website.  Why?  Because no one wants to read press releases.

Press releases are dull and boring.  You can jazz them up, but most people have little time and little imagination to write something more compelling.  They are simply a literary trainwreck of bad grammar, incomprehensible jargon, and lifeless corporate quotes.  No one normal communicates in such a manner.  Outside of day traders and regulators and industry flaks, there is little that would compel the average person to say, “Let’s read some killer press releases for the next five hours!”

It is therefore mystifying when startups send out press releases.  I see this happen a lot around big tech startup events like Launch, Disrupt, and DEMO.  Not sure what the point is however as you already have a captive audience of bloggers and press folks milling around for a few days.  If you haven’t captured their interest to write about your startup, then a press release is certainly not going to move the meter on generating viral exposure.

Press releases are useless for startups.  They are a necessary evil for public companies in order to adhere to disclosure requirements, but that is simply a financial, regulatory, or compliance function.  Press releases however do not provide much value to startups that could use real, high value online exposure.  Garnering that online exposure requires real work.

Instead of relying on press releases, you need a more comprehensive, multi-faceted approach.  Identify key reporters and industry bloggers and build relationships with these folks.  When you have something worthy of writing about, they will be more willing to oblige with an article.  You need to get yourself guest post slots on relevant and well trafficked websites in order to build up credibility.  You should tie all of these efforts together with a strong social media presence through a blog, Twitter or other channel.  If you really are hard pressed, then you can get yourself a PR agency.

Save yourself the time and money on creating and sending out press releases.  The best and more effective strategy in getting exposure are the things are that readily available and free.  Networking, social media, and creating compelling content that people would be willing to read and share.  That is what is going to drive way more customer traffic , and isn’t that the point of generating all this online activity?

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