Why Press Releases Don't Work — a Review of "The Burned-Out Blogger’s Guide to PR"
I jumped into blogging—dare I say tech reporting?—without any preparation. I was an IT major, "that guy" everyone asked for help with tech, and seemed to have a knack for fixing little problems (really, it was just persistence until I got something to work, and a willingness to move fast and break stuff). And so, I'd figure out how to get stuff to work that really should have just worked in the first place, then blog about how to work such magic.
Somehow it worked. A guide about how to get a specific HP printer to work over a network with Windows 7 x64 (yes, it was that specific) was among my most popular pieces. Specific, boring, and yet it helped people and Google rewarded that. One thing led to another, and I've been employed writing words, in one way or another, ever since.
I wasn't a journalist, and wouldn't have ever thought of myself as such at first. Even when I switched to primarily reviewing apps instead of writing tutorials about them, I approached them like iFixit, tearing them apart to see what features and fonts and frameworks made them tick. That's what's always driven my tech writing.
When I wanted to improve, I devoured books on copywriting (Erin Kissane's "Elements of Content Strategy" from A Book Apart is a great place to start there, by the way), trying to learn from the best on how to best phrase my writing and organize content to help people learn from it. That, and not "covering the tech beat", was my passion.
And yet, soon enough, PR pitches were filling up my inbox, informing me of this "great new app" with "groundbreaking new features" that's "already been downloaded millions of times" or that's "launching with a 1 week discount on Tuesday". Boy were they exciting at first. I'd arrived. Someone had "noticed" my writing, liked it, and wanted me to cover them.
Until I got nearly the same pitch tomorrow. And the day after. And a dozen over the weekend. Very soon I had a nice set of email filters, automatically marking PR emails as read and stuffing them in a folder for the days I had nothing else to write about. I'd rather hand-discover an exciting new app—and yes, for those of you who've followed me a while, I'm particularly excitable about apps that simplify something far more than it's ever been simplified before—or teach something about an old favorite than rehash a press release.
And yet, some pitches worked. Sometimes a founder—or a really nice guy at the company that does almost anything—would write a friendly email just saying they'd launched something and thought I might find it interesting. No PR fluff—or at least not much of it—and just a personal, non-demanding tone. Even to my jaded eyes, that'd at least get me to open their site and see if it kept my interest for half a minute. And that's the way your app would end up getting covered.
Of course, I'm on the other side now, and am the guy that'll be trying to get you to cover Zapier because it really is awesome. But I digress.
The reason I wrote this down is because I just finished reading former Techcrunch writer Jason Kincaid's book "The Burned-Out Blogger’s Guide to PR". In a book that'll take you just an hour or so to read if you read fast, he explains the basics of what PR is all about, and what you should do if you want people to cover your business. And it's great. No, really.
See, I know the pitches that have gotten me to pay attention and make them into a story, and the ones that instantly get deleted even if they're from Famous Corp Inc. Every writer does. Perhaps that's our trade secret, perhaps it's just hard to express, and perhaps we all just think it's so obvious anyone could see why a bog standard press release is worse than just a waste of time.
But Jason Kincaid went ahead and wrote it down, spelling out what you need to do to get covered, and how to make the most of it. And then, at the end, he veers off course, lamenting over becoming jaded and even mean, and helps you see just why yet another press release or broken embargo can be so soul crushing to a writer.
If you're building a product or business, go take an hour and read this book. Really. It may not be "the best" book on how to get press coverage and market your product, but it's real. So real it'd make tech writers have flashbacks. This is really how the modern business news process works, and you should understand it.
And if you're a budding writer, go read this to see what you'd otherwise learn by hard knocks over the coming weeks and months. You'll read it now, and then in a few months think "oh right, that's what Jason said." I wish I'd had something like that when I started.
So there. "The Burned-Out Blogger’s Guide to PR". Highly recommended.
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