How to Build a Startup Press Kit by an ex-Journalist

You don’t have to spend a lot of cash to get coverage:

You’re open for business — congratulations! Now you need a press kit. Here’s why: journalists need information to tell your story and a press kit is how you’re going to give it to them. Don’t wait until the last second to try and slam something together. A press kit is a pre-packaged set of promotional materials that provide information about a company, cause or person. In business environments press kits can also be referred to as a media kits. They are distributed to members of the media for promotional use.

As I wrote about in “7 Tips for Getting Startup Press from an Ex-Journalist”, press coverage is about achieving company goals not getting famous. Lay your strategic foundation in advance of your news needs by having a strong press section on your company’s website then create a strong story-specific press kit for each big development you release.


Your company’s online Press Kit:

Screen shot of Google’s Press Center

Having a press section on your website helps handle in-bound press inquiries as your team works hard on growth. This is where all press inquires are initially directed because journalists always look at a website first before making contact. Therefore, you’ll want to include some standard basic brand information any journalist can use, regardless of what type of media organization they work for, to understand what you do and get an overview of your current situation. If you don’t put this standard information online, every journalist that calls will ask these same basic questions over and over again. You’re not only wasting your team’s time, but the journalist’s time too. Upload it.


Important points:

*Don’t forget to state that the copyright of all media assets belongs to your company and that you want credit for use. If you’re not sure how to word that, speak to your lawyer.
*Include your company’s contact details for press inquires, either your press office or officer.

When you’re ready to contact the press directly for some outward-bound press action, having a press section on your website will also serve as an organized foundation for your campaign because all the basics are already packaged and ready for use. To share your big news, you’ll send a fresh full story-specific press kit to journalists. It should include a press release plus these standard facts — often called ‘proof points’ in business lingo. For now the following information needs to be live online and you should include as many details that are relevant to your business as possible.


Tick List:

*Chief Executives and/or Founders Bio Sheet
*Company FAQ Sheet:
 — Brief statement explaining what you do
 — Date opened
 — HQ location plus location and/or number of other offices
 — Number of staff
 — Main products and/or services description including a brief breakdown of features
 — Cost of main products/services
 — Dates for when main products/services were launched
 — Location of where those products/services are produced
 — Customer data including names of big clients and statistics
 — Where you sell your products/services including listing digital platforms
 — Industry size and your position in it
 — Industry certifications or awards
 — Revenue statistics
 — Growth statistics
 — Names of major investors
 — Statistics for investment fundraising
*Media Assets
 —Logo
 — Photos of C-level executives and/or founders
 — Photos of your company/office
 — Other relevant photos or videos (products, services, events etc.)
 — Screenshots of web products or apps that illustrate what you’re doing
NB: these need to be high quality and in raw/editable form for news organizations to be able to publish them.
*Press Releases
 — Update this area to keep your news feed fresh. Keep past releases in your feed. It helps journalists provide historical context because it clearly documents just how much you’ve grown.
*Press Contact Details
 — This could be for your press office or an individual from the marketing team that’s been designated to oversee inquires. For example, use press@mycompany.com or the name/title/email/phone for your marketing team member that is responsible for press. Title examples for individuals include Press Officer, Head of Press and Director of Communications.


Must haves for your story-specific Press Kit:

The day has finally come for you to call journalists and tell them you’d like to share exciting news that you believe is relevant to their readers. Exciting times! But beware — journalists can’t and won’t just write:

Wow, this new startup in our neighborhood is great. The founder is also a graduate of our local university, so obviously he is a good person. They are doing great things! Check them out.”

In order to convey your story, journalists need real facts that explain your business. This is why you’ve already prepared these details for your website’s press section. Then when you’re running a press campaign, journalists will also need your press release with the new development plus any new assets. Combined, all of this is your story-specific press kit.

Additional Points for Consideration
 — If you’re hosting an event why not invite journalists to attend?
 — State if you’re offering special access to trial your product or service.


Distributing your story-specific Press Kit — snail mail or email?:

Back in the olden-days press kits were always delivered to the newsroom by post or courier. The vast majority of them arrived in a manilla envelope, contained a paper press release, a few executive head shots and a VHS tape. Times have changed. These days if you send a physical package it is unusual and quite often complicates the newsroom’s workflow. That’s because news is now produced digitally so if you send hard copies, someone has to digitize them. This will take time. Newsrooms are always dealing with breaking news so press kits are usually assigned a low priority. The journalist who needs to work with your assets will have to wait and may not get the back at all. In that case, your story is weakened because the journalists didn’t have those assets to show and tell your story.

When you send your press kit by email it is called an electronic press kit or EPK. Warning: When emailing a press kit watch the file size. Enormous files might get rejected or lock the journalist’s inbox. When an inbox gets locked the journalist has to delete the offending file in order to resume working. Sometimes this deletion happens even before they have a chance to open a kit because they really need to make a deadline and that huge file is blocking them. Keep the file size small and send the link to your website’s press section to neatly distribute your background information.

There are times when it is necessary to still send a press kit through the post but it will depend on your company and the type of announcement you are making. I would suggest never spending money to post a kit unless you send it to a specific journalist that you have a relationship with. For example, you might send a sample of your physical product for the journalist to investigate in preparation for an interview. Physical press kits can cost a lot of money and if you’re a startup trying to keep it Lean, posting kits to your entire press list will spend your cash fast.


Email distribution is cost effective — billion dollar case study:

Let me give you an example for how using email for press distribution can be efficient for startups. I remember the first time I was ever asked to be sent a press release by email instead of by fax and it was from a startup. It happened on my first staff journalism job in the New York City metro just after I finished my masters in journalism. I’d been on the job in NYC just over six months.

At the same time my father was working for a tech startup founded by a former colleague of his. He met the founder when they worked together on NASA projects in the early 1980s. A few years after they met, his friend launched an R&D company developing laser radar (LADAR) technology for NASA and Star Wars space borne tracking applications. He eventually transformed it into a commercial medical laser company around the mid-1990s. It was called Autonomous Technologies Inc.

My father joined during the new medical phase as a senior technologiest at a very exciting time to help drive through US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for their groundbreaking technology. He was convinced they were going to revolutionize eye care. What were they doing you ask? They were aiming to get the first FDA approval on new capabilities for customized LASIK treatment. Their device received its first FDA approval in November 1998. They would later go for more approvals — and get them.

So there I was happily working 18 hours a day as a baby journalist covering New York City and Wall Street news when my father contacted me in early 1999 to say that he was loving the entreprenurial life. His team was working hard on new capabilities but in the meantime, there was now an acquisition bid on the table for a really big merger and that his Head of Communications wanted to speak to me for advice on approaching New York City press. The call was organized and she did indeed ring me. She was electric! “This is huge! We need to get the word out!” I will never forget the pure joy and excitement in her voice. She was so proud of the team and excited about their future.

We discussed a strategy for getting their news around Wall Street. That included her calling Bloomberg News, CNBC News and of course the Wall Street Journal among others. The single founder of the company was also a native New Yorker and a graduate of an engineering school that is now part of New York University — and I told her that these facts increased his newsworthiness in the New York City press and that she should also communicate them to outlets when pitching the story.

The Head of Communications concluded our conversation by asking if she could also send me a copy of the press release. I told her to fax it to the newsdesk for consideration by the Managing Editor. Our conversation went like this:
Head of Communications: “I want to send you a copy of our release, give me your email.”
Me: “Fax the newsdesk. The Managing Editor will pick it up and decide if it will be covered.”
Head of Communications: “No, I’m going to email it”.
Me: “Nobody does that, the fax is on the newsdesk and the Managing Editor picks up the piles of release and selects the stories”.
Head of Communications: “No, I’m going to email it because its cheaper.”

Ahhhh — there it was. “It’s cheaper”. Faxing across the country came with a cost. Running a campaign at a time when the company was not only in the final stretch of a long R&D run but now also manufacturing devices for the orders that were flooding-in meant journalists were going to get the cheapest possible press release delivery and that was via the inbox.

The Head of Communications strategically focused on media companies where their news would have impact and get them closer to their growth goals. Within a few months of the merger, the scrappy startup also received additional FDA approvals for innovative firsts. Then the following year the merged company was acquired by Alcon Labs, which at the time was the world’s largest ophthalmology company for $950 million (USD).

In today’s money that’s like getting $1.4 billion for your baby. Delivering that initial press release about their first acquisition bid by email obviously didn’t harm them. And it didn’t cost them large amounts of cash either. Remember, this happened many years ago when email wasn’t commonly used for delivering press releases so there’s no reason why your startup can’t begin with an email press kit today and go from there.

For the curious: Autonomous Technologies’ game changing product was called LADARVision System and Custom Cornea. In total, it received the first ever FDA approvals for eye tracking, small beam scanning and wavefront driven customized LASIK treatment. It performed over one million procedures worldwide while in production.


Leverage Press Kit content:

Every time you run a press campaign you should set measurable goals for it and make sure the content you include in your press kit is going to help you meet those goals. In the case of my father’s startup, they were a hard working team of about 80 people looking for ways to fuel growth. That’s why the Head of Communications wanted to target the business press.

The first acquisition was great for them. They put the most useful facts in their press release and engaged with relevant press outlets and specific journalists to ensure impact. The Head of Communications also emailed journalists herself so she was building relationships as she shared the press release. If you combine the first merger with the subsequent $950 million acquisition for the entire unit a year later by the largest company in their industry — I’d say the foundation the passionate startuppers laid with their initial campaign strategy for growth worked!


Ready to run a campaign?:

Now that you’ve produced your press kit you can read more on how to get coverage in my article “7 Tips for Getting Startup Press from an Ex-Journalist”.

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