In my PR and marketing roles at two startups, I’ve had the most fun -- and done some of my most rewarding work -- launching new products, features and offerings. Some folks love building new products. Like most people doing PR with startups, I love announcing them. One key to a successful product launch is lining up compelling coverage with a list of news organizations that are trusted by your company’s users and market.
Recently, my company, Panorama Education, released a new product, called Playbook. We spent months developing and testing it with school districts around the country. Playbook has an inspiring vision and its development has benefited from close partnerships with classroom teachers. Playbook has been a focus of our team. With all of these pieces in place for a successful product launch, I’ve looked forward to releasing Playbook for months.
The obvious first step of my press strategy was to start writing a press release. As most PR pros would, I focused the narrative of the press release on what sets Playbook apart from other professional learning tools for teachers. Recently on the Muck Rack blog, Elizabeth Victor gave excellent recommendations for keeping press releases focused and compelling and pitfalls to avoid. By traditional measures, the press release I prepared hit the right points in the standard format, but it lacked the passion we all have for the new product.
I shared a draft with my CEO and product manager. We saw that we had developed a strong press release, but we quickly decided that the traditional press release wasn’t the right vehicle to communicate the product launch to journalists. We needed another tool to make the story of Playbook -- how it was developed and what sets it apart from other products that have been offered to schools and teachers -- come to life.
We decided to challenge the conventions of the product pitch and skipped the press release altogether. Instead, we sent a blog post to journalists under embargo, along with quotes from the CEO, a teacher who contributed to Playbook, and an early user. Then, Panorama published the post, “Introducing Playbook: By Teachers, For Teachers,” on the morning of the announcement.
We launched a new product without ever issuing a press release.
It was a successful launch. Our pitch and blog post generated coverage in our target publications, including TechCrunch, EdSurge, BostInno and Xconomy. One journalist we contacted took the time to thank us and encouraged us to send blog posts to announce company news and product releases in the future.
1. Blog posts allow for powerful storytelling. Blog posts are an informal, conversational style of writing. Press releases, by contrast, encourage formulaic writing in a set structure. Without the limitations of a strict structure, blog posts allow for storytelling and communicating the vision behind a new product.
2. Blog posts capture journalists’ attention. Unlike a traditional press release, blog posts have authors who can provide a personal perspective on the product and its development. The detailed storytelling of a blog post highlights points of connection and interest between the product and its target audience. With the opportunity to set the scene and convey the need for the new product, a compelling blog post emphasizes for journalists what truly sets the product apart.
3. Blog posts signal creativity and confidence. Journalists have hundreds of press releases in their inbox every day. Sending a personal note with a blog post written by a CEO or product manager really makes a new product pitch stand out when this approach is used decisively. In order to be effective, your pitch email and blog post should complement one another and require just as much care and attention as would have gone into a traditional press release.
Successful PR and marketing strategies are deliberate and precise. In this case, we chose a different approach from the norm, but one that was best-suited for our product launch. Changing the format of the pitch was admittedly a risk. But by sending a blog post in the place of a traditional press release, we demonstrated that Panorama is a company that is thoughtful, and a little daring, in how we will share our product news. Journalists engaged with us and covered the product launch because we successfully used the pitch in tandem with the blog post to convey the story of Playbook. I’m excited to try this approach again with another product or offering in the future.
Deciding to forgo a press release for a product launch won’t work in every context. But the next time you are trying to tell the story of the unique value of a new product but feel limited by the traditional format of a press release, ask yourself: Do you really need it?
Elizabeth Breese is Marketing Director at Panorama Education in Boston, Massachusetts. Panorama Education has spectacular PR support from Big Swing Communications.
Photo: Time to launch via Shutterstock