The press release is a startup’s main method of communication with the world of the media. But a bad press release will be ineffective, and a really bad press release can even hurt your reputation with reporters in your industry. Personally, I definitely take note of the company that issued it when I come across a release that’s an absolute disaster.
So how do you avoid writing that kind of disaster? In [a separate article] I’ve covered how to write your own press releases, but you might not be a confident enough writer to take that on, or you simply might not have the time. In that case, your next best option is to hire a professional.
At the high end of the cost spectrum, of course, are PR and marketing agencies. Any decent PR agency will be able to produce a good press release for you and distribute it to relevant journalists in your industry. Whether that comes in the form of a mass email or a personal phone call to the reporter, though, depends on the agency you’ve picked. In general, you should look for an agency with a good reputation and a history of PR work in your particular field. If your company does online food delivery orders, for example, you’ll want to find a PR agency that has a lot of experience handling that kind of release and that knows the reporters likely interested in covering it.
The downside to choosing a well-connected and reputably PR agency is the cost. Even a single release is likely to run into the thousands. PR agencies typically prefer to be paid via retainers, meaning that if you just want a single press release written and don’t have much in the way of other PR needs, hiring an agency probably isn’t a cost-effective option. Monthly retainer fees even for startups from a boutique PR agency [can cost between $2,000-$5,000 per month], and a brand-name agency retainer usually costs an awful lot more. Some agencies also offer per-project or per hour booking, though.
Whether going with a PR agency fits within your budget is something you’ll have to assess for yourself. Agencies aren’t the only option, though, and you can save quite a bit of money by finding a freelance writer instead.
What to look for
The internet is full of freelance writers—or at least people who call themselves that—so even with a relatively small budget, you can afford to be fairly picky about who you hire. Highest on your list of things a good candidate will have should be:
- Relevant experience: “Freelance writer” can mean a lot of things, and writing press releases is very different from (for example) writing ad copy or ghostwriting ebooks. You want to find a freelance writer who has experience specifically writing press releases, and ideally someone who has experience writing press releases that are relevant to the industry your startup operates in.
- Relevant samples: Don’t take anybody’s word about their experience. Ask for samples (two or three is a good number) of press releases they’ve written, and look them over to be sure they’re producing the quality and type of work that you’re looking for.
- Professional attitude: The best writer in the world won’t be much use to you if they can’t meet deadlines or respond to emails promptly, and this can be a real problem amongst freelancers. A little bit of leeway is necessary since most freelancers have other clients and in some cases full-time jobs to attend to. But if a candidate misses an interview appointment or is repeatedly slow to respond to your emails, look elsewhere. There are plenty of other fish in the sea, and someone who’s slow to respond during the interview process may be an unresponsive nightmare once they’ve nailed down the gig.
Do you need distribution?
Another thing to consider is whether you just need a release written, or whether you need it written and distributed to journalists. If you just need the release written because you’re going to distribute it yourself, that should be simple to arrange. If you need to hire a freelancer who can write the press release and distribute it to relevant journalists in a compelling way, that’s also possible, but be prepared for a more lengthy search process and—of course—a higher price.
Where to look
There are a number of places you can look online to find someone who’s capable of writing your release.
- Freelancer platforms like UpWork and Freelancer will give you access to a large audience of freelance writers, and they also provide some level of security for both writer and client if a job goes south. But be wary: they’re full of under-qualified applicants, and some of the most skilled candidates avoid them because of the fees they take out of client payments. (UpWork, for example, now takes 20 percent of what freelancers earn).
- Generic job sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, and even Craigslist can also work well. You’re likely to get fewer applicants from these sites, but the applicants you do attract will often be of higher quality than the ones you’ll find on UpWork. Be sure to include terms like “remote” and “writing” in your job description, as freelancers will search for things like “remote writing” when trying to find jobs.
- Writing-specific sites are another option. You can post jobs on sites like ProBlogger and Freelance Writing or look into platforms like Ebyline. These sites have the smallest audiences, but also the most qualified ones.
Terms and price
Once you’ve found the candidate you’re looking for, the last thing you need to do is work out the terms of the job and settle on a price. There are no industry standards for this, but in general here are some of things you’ll want to be sure are ironed out in advance:
- The deliverables and the due date
- Any specific requirements you have (a word count, for example)
- Who is providing what information for the release’s content (will the writer need to do any research independently?)
- How the final price will be billed
- When and how the writer will be paid
This can be arranged through a legal contract (safer for both parties), but these terms are often just agreed over email. For the sake of both parties, it’s good to be sure there’s a digital paper trail of what everyone has agreed to, so don’t make these arrangements purely over the phone.
What you’ll end up having to pay and how that will be counted will vary to some extent depending on the experience level of the writer you’ve hired and whether or not you need distribution. But here are some general guideposts for cost, assuming that you only need the release written and plan to distribute it yourself:
- If paying per project, you’ll negotiate the full cost up-front. If this is less than $50, that’s a red flag that the writer may not be good or experienced enough. A reasonably experienced release writer is likely to charge somewhere between $75 to $250 for a relatively short and straightforward release.
- If paying per word, expect to pay somewhere between $0.15 and $0.50 per word. You may be able to go a bit lower, but any per word price below $0.10 is a red flag that you may have hired the wrong person.
- If paying per hour, you can expect an hourly fee of anywhere between $25 and $75 or even more if the person is particularly experienced. But ask how long the release is likely to take ahead of time. An experienced writer generally shouldn’t need more than a couple of hours to complete a release unless it’s long (which it shouldn’t be) or requires a lot of research for some reason.
In the end
At the end of the day, your best bet is to go with a professional PR agency; they will take care of all your needs and should be more than capable of delivering a high quality end product. But for smaller startups that don’t have the cash to blow on hiring a PR firm, finding a freelance release writer is absolutely a viable option, although it requires some diligent searching and candidate filtering before you may find the right person for the job.