Speaking Truth to Power in PR

I love my job!  I get to do one of the coolest things on the planet.  Helping our customers be as successful as they can be with their press communications. One of my favorite things is helping customers understand the best way to promote their products and services.

But offering great customer service is not enough. I must also help them avoid many of the pitfalls they might otherwise face with their press communications.  This is what I call speaking truth to power.

I will highlight only eight of the most pervasive issues with press releases in general, as well as how the majority can negatively impact our industry.  As always, my philosophy is to speak from the grass roots level, with information offered from the bottom up instead of as perceived from the top down.  The aim is to encourage customers to embrace these rules of the road. It will make the world of public relations a better place for everyone.


1) Know Who Your Audience Is. Remember that the audience of your press communications are journalists, and not your potential customers.  So once you've wrapped your head around this single precept should drive how you approach writing any press release.  It is imperative that you keep your content factual, and avoid making promotional claims.


2) Location, Location, Location.  With the advent of the mobile revolution, we started noticing a very nasty trend.  Overseas developers who wanted to penetrate the US market would try to send out a press release that declared them as from the US, and not their true location.  For example, a developer from Moscow, Russia would declare Wilmington, Delaware as their city/state of origin.

Regardless their motivation to do so, this is very bad form!  Remember that your press communications are living documents, and must be factual.  This is not as much about selling your app as it is selling your company.  So you must think brand, not app.  It is all about building brand awareness and credibility.  Any journalist will want to glean information about your company, where it is located, the year it was founded, who founded it, and what your main business activities are.

Masking your location colors everything you say.  The second that a journalist discovers you are not from where you say you are, all bets are off.  And chances of getting yourself blacklisted are incredibly high.  Why?  Because the feeling is if you are so willing to lie about your location, how on earth can any journalist trust what you are trying to send them?  In a word, be honest about where you are located.


3) Shout to the World!  Another issue that we occasionally see is where someone tries to send out a press release, but attempts to mask their true identity (legal name).  I hear all kinds of excuses.  "My boss doesn't want me working outside my company," to "I just don't want to reveal my name."  Regardless the reasoning, this is very bad form!

Your press communications are the antithesis of keeping ones' affairs private on the web. The whole idea of issuing a press release is to cite newsworthy events.  Again, this is all about building credibility.  Don't come off as amateurish by using cute handles or an alias' as a substitute for your real name.  You'll be setting yourself up to get blacklisted, as members of the press will feel that they cannot trust you.

Think of it in this way.  Imagine taking the time to put on that best suit and tie, and go for a job interview.  Would you look at your prospective boss, and tell him you don't want to give out your name?  Of course not!  Your aim is to build relationships with members of the press over time, not tear them down.


4) Follow Proper Press Release Format.  Proper formatting is crucial where it concerns your press communications.  A press release is a public relations announcement, directed to members of the news media and other targeted Mac publications, for the purpose of drawing attention to a specific person, company, event or product launch.

Avoid storytelling or "blog" phrases, as they will never work.  Instead, you must physically be announcing a product, service, or event.  At the head of the body field, always start your release with a proper introductory statement (or phrase).  This immediately tells the media "who" is sending the release, and what for.


"Journalists like me are flooded with press releases every day," explains Dennis Sellers of Apple World Today. "Poorly written and confusing press releases, as well as those filled with hyperbole, are ignored. Take Ray's advice when crafting your announcements. It will help you, your company, and folks like me."


5) Versioning.  Something that we see a lot is the lack of versioning in press releases.  Many developers discount versioning out of hand, but this is a huge oversight.  Always include versioning in your press communications!  Versioning is how the media (as well as your potential customers) keep up with your app's history over time.  Do not discount versioning out of hand.  There are many media sources who will reject releases entirely if they do not include proper versioning.


6) One Release. One App.  Never try to send out a press release that speaks to more than one app at a time.  Please remember that you're competing for the same cover space as everyone else.  It's very rare for the busy journalist to review two or more apps from the same developer on the same day.  This has the nasty potential of having your entire communications piece discounted out of hand.  Instead, always split them up.  It's much better to issue only one release a day.  Issue one today, another tomorrow, etc.

Because not all media sources cover both platforms, we intentionally sub-divide prMac's channel lineup into sub-categories for Mac OS X (Desktop market) and iOS (Mobile market).  So it is impossible to send a mixed release to both channels at once.  It is important to keep your OS X and iOS press communications completely separate from one another.  If you were to mix them, you'd potentially be losing half of your penetration straight off the bat.

Pooling two versions of the same app into a press release places the decision of which app to cover directly on the journalist's shoulders.  If he or she is a very busy reporter, both versions of your app aren't going to make the cut (or maybe neither version does).  Make your release explicit and straight-to-the-point. Splitting releases up by platform makes this easier to accomplish, and allows you to take advantage of a much longer marketing tail that you otherwise would not have had.


7) Product Pages.  I cannot stress enough the value of maintaining up-to-date product pages on your website.  It doesn't matter if it's an iOS app, or one built for the Mac; all apps need a product page of some kind. This is pr101.  Your product page will be one of the first resources a journalist looks for when gathering additional information.  The more informative and balanced your product page is, the better.

Avoid using the intermediary page that Apple spits out as your product page.  Otherwise, you're giving all of your credibility and branding to Apple. Just use the iTunes link as the mechanism to purchase/download your app.  It's no substitute as your product page.  It's to serve as the glue to get from a web browser to iTunes on a person's Desktop (or the MAS if it's a Mac App).

Social networking channels are incredibly useful for marketing your products/services.  However never give into the impulse to use your Facebook or Twitter page as a product or company website in your release. While both social networks are an important part of your relationship with the world, they are no substitute for a well written and designed product page or company website.


"While a press release usually gives me a good idea of whether or not a product or app might be of interest to our readers, it doesn't tell the whole story," says Chris Hauk, Senior Editor of MacTrast. "Ray's advice about product pages should be taken as gospel from the mountain top. I always go to a developer or manufacturer website to search for more information I can use about the product. The more additional information available there, the better!"


8) Avoid Promotional Claims.  The worst thing you can do is try to shape a journalist's point of view before they have even had a chance to digest the information.  Using words such as "exciting," or "amazing," or using exclamation marks after each and every sentence is a huge turn off.  Even if you had done your own due diligence, chances are incredibly high the busy journalist won't have.  They simply don't have enough time to vet your claim.

Here is a test.  Ask yourself this question: how do you know your application is better than other apps?  If you can't honestly answer your own question, then don't include the sentence in your press release.  Just give them the facts.  The trick is to allow the journalist who writes a review of your app to make all the promotional claims.  Now you have something worth its weight in gold.  You can use those quotes from the media in your future press communications.

And finally, avoid the overuse of the exclamation point (!).  I recognize there is a tendency to engender a sense of excitement in your release.  But frankly the ! sign is the most overused symbol there is, and in some cases only serve to have your release seen as an advertisement.


I wish to close by highlighting a very important point.  We are all in this together.  When other developers pass off what they think is an official press release manually, there is absolutely no chance they will get published.  In my humble opin, this trend affects and hurts everyone.  As members of the press are so bombarded by fake press releases, it's no wonder the practice makes it harder for everyone else to get the kind of coverage they so deserve.  This is where prMac can help.  Our mission is to ensure that everyone follows proper press release format.  It's one of the primary reasons why our customers are so successful.

Chris H 6 months ago
Lots of good stuff here Ray! The blog is looking good! Glad you're doing this!
David 6 months ago
OMG! This is almost too scary!
Sandy Barber 6 months ago
Great information!
Scott Lorenz 6 months ago
Ray, you've made some important points about good form in press releases. With hundreds of new iPhone apps available for sale every week how can any iPhone App developer get traction with their app? It's simple, you must harness publicity and prMac is one tool in my bag to help get the word out. Becuase it's more competitive now than ever, in my opinion, to get the media's attention you need someone who deals with them on a regular basis. Sure you can do PR yourself up to a point, but, if you're not available when they call or are busy writing code all the time, you may miss the opportunity for exposure. I'd be happy to talk to any developer who wants to discuss how to put PR to work for their app. http://www.iPhoneAppPublicity.com
Gomathy Shankaran 6 months ago
Nice blog. Though press release is important, small developers often have to deal with intellectual and copyright problems. With so many apps in the market , how can small developers or content makers protect their apps/content and press release their product at the same time ? Any blog on dealing with this issue, would be helpful. Thanks www.kidzlearn.co
Ray Barber 6 months ago
Hi Gomathy, thanks for commenting! Matters of copyright are important. While your app should be protected at the time it is released, to take legal action against copyright infringement requires that you physically file under the proper provisions at copyright.gov. Matters of copyright will be a topic in an up-coming article this year.
Tatyana Belyavskaya 6 months ago
The very interesting post. I shared it on linkedin.

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