When NOT to do a press release for a start-up, and why

 A client had booked me for a good news release. The client, a start-up, has an exciting product in the development stages. An excellent business plan, strong industry partners, an expert board of directors, and loyal local investors – all the qualities you like to see in a client who is taking good care of a fledgling new business.

We went over all the new developments as I attempted to cherry pick something that the media could find exciting and newsworthy.

“Well,” my client said, “We could talk about the deal we’re about to sign for a manufacturing site.”

“Photo opp?” I asked.

“Yes, but we couldn’t actually do it on the site – we could do it outside.”

Er, no. Since “outside” meant having my client standing in front of a different business, one with no obvious link to the story,  I explained that such a photo would only serve to confuse the reader.

After a bit of chat back and forth, we decided, together, that the plans for that particular development weren’t sufficiently ripe for a release, anyway. They begged more questions than they answered, and nothing frustrates the media more. Make them go digging and they might just leave you at the post in favour of a story that’s got more substance. Or worse, they’ll get it wrong and leave you backing and filling and explaining yourself to death.

Definitely not good media relations practice. And it won’t help your client’s investment prospects any, either.

Moving on to another significant development, I learned that a deal was “almost” signed – a Big deal, a Meaty deal, a deal with nice implications for investment and jobs.

The client is excited and rightly so.

But then, “We wouldn’t have to name them,” said the client.  “We could just say a company of such and such a size, based in Saskatchewan. A major mid-sized company in the fertilizer industry.”

Oh dear.

“And when the media call, can we give them any details, yet?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“No? …Can we tell them anything yet? ”

The answer was: not much. Not yet.

Two things wrong with this scenario, I explained. A whiff of publicity around an unsigned business investment deal or partnership can be the kiss of death. The party being courted may go off in a huff, but knowing quite a lot about your great idea.

And this leaves the client, exactly, where???  No new money, lots of hours wasted in talks and visits, and lots of confidential projected revenues and plans in the prospect’s hands.

There was a long silence. “I’d love the work,” I admitted. “It would be great to do a release for you and tweet the living daylights out of it for traction.” (I love doing this, it’s fun, and I’m good at it.)

“But,” I went on, “You aren’t far enough along with the process to put the news out there yet. It’s just plain too soon.”

By this time, my client agreed that we needed to wait a bit.  He’d be saying way too much of this:”I can’t release those details yet,” and “Can’t name the company, except to say…”

The lesson? It’s great to be excited, pleased and happy about those deals that are “almost” signed.

Just don’t put out a release about them.

About Jane Carthew Davidson

As a former senior public relations specialist with a large publicly traded multi-national chemical company, Jane Carthew Davidson produced the company’s award winning annual report for several years. Later, she was media relations specialist for Ontario’s Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), where she wrote speeches for the executive team, trained spokespersons across the province, and developed talking points and strategies designed to clarify the role played by property assessment within the municipal taxation system. Jane is a former business reporter for the Globe and Mail Report on Business, and the Toronto Star’s Business Today. Her articles have appeared in the Toronto Star, the Medical Post, the Anglican Journal, the Financial Post and most recently, the Globe and Mail’s special supplements on subjects as wide ranging as organic farming and new investment regulations. On several occasions, Jane’s media savvy and quick research skills enabled her to win broad media attention and investment queries from Canada, the Unites States and Europe, for a unique medical device start-up venture. Following Peterborough’s Flood of the Century in 2004, Jane handled media relations for the City of Peterborough, developing and implementing the communications plan for the city’s media outreach to afflicted citizens, concerned insurance companies, city staff and other government stakeholders.
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