The Incredible Press Release Hack
You can still buy your way in.
Press releases are the hoary old uncle of PR and communications. They might feel like a holdover from days gone by. Why not send a telegram using Morse code?
And what even constitutes a press release these days—could it be a blog post, or a tweet?
Laugh all you want, but here’s the thing: Old-fashioned press releases still hold powerful strategic value. Not to generate press coverage, per se, but to raise company visibility.
Let me give you an example. A few years ago, the CEO of Precision Neuroscience reached out to me. His company builds brain-computer interfaces. The company had just closed a $12m Series B round and was looking to raise the company profile to impress potential hires.
A $12m round isn’t big news by itself, so editorial news coverage was going to be a stretch. But he wanted information about the company, and the funding round, to be easily discoverable in a Google search. This is where a press release can be extraordinarily valuable.
Here’s how I think about it. In the Cold War days, spies would carry what they called “pocket litter” to corroborate their cover story in case of capture. (Here’s a great internet rabbit hole to distract you from learning about press releases: a British WWII operation using pocket litter to fool the Nazis prior to the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily.)
When you’re building a company, one of your first tasks is to convince potential investors, partners, customers, and employees that your company is “real.” What’s the first thing they’re going to do after hearing about you the first time? That’s right, type your name into Google.
This is where press releases can be valuable pocket litter to corroborate the story you told them about how amazing you are.
So I wrote and published the press release about their Series B. Almost immediately, and for months afterwards, the release was the first thing that popped up:
The main reason this press release is now lower down in the Google results is because the company raised another $41m earlier this year.
The reason this press release trick works—and why it’s better than just publishing the news on your blog—is because the Domain Authority (DA) of a site like PRNewswire is way higher than the DA of your newly-established company website. The DA of PRN is 92, which is extraordinarily high (the NYTimes has a DA of 94). The DA of your site is probably no higher than 30. Getting to 50 is an accomplishment. (Check yours here.) The high DA of established press release sites means that Google will rank the mention of your company on their site a lot higher than you could get on your own.
In other words, a press release allows you to buy Google visibility for relatively cheap—while controlling the message.
Is it better than getting flattering coverage from the Wall Street Journal? Of course not. But when you’re trying to build the profile of your company, it can be a fantastic and fast way to gain visibility and build your company story with a story on a site with the same domain authority (the DA of the WSJ is 92, the same as PRNewswire).
Here’s another example. Before I launched The Otto Awards, I noticed that there were a few other awards that came up when I googled “Otto Awards,” including the “Bravo Otto” which is awarded to German film producers, and an “Otto Award” created by German film students. Here’s what Google looked like:
I wanted anyone who heard of my new award to find it easily, and I certainly didn’t want anyone confusing an award rewarding great startup storytelling with a German film award. So I published a release. Within a few hours of the release going live, it already occupied the second search result on Google:
Within a few days, it was the top search result. Now that the award program is established, my web site comes up at the top—but the release is still in the top 5 results.
Here are a few company milestones that make great press release fodder:
- Funding rounds
- Key hires
- New product launch
- Participation at important industry events
Some of the top press release services, ranked by Domain Authority:
- com (92)
- com (91)
- com (83)
- com (83)
- com (80)
As you might expect, the importance of press releases declines as your company grows. But they remain an important way to get your story out, the way you want it told.
The #1 challenge of a startup is to appear bigger than it is. And press releases can be a valuable tool as you build your ‘cover story’ that you’re a unicorn just waiting to happen.