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075 - How to do a press release for your vegan business

How do you get your business in the news? If you see a vegan business or product in the news, then it’s most likely there because the company sent the story out as a press release. Newspapers, magazines and news websites all need a constant stream of interesting things to share with their readers but don’t expect them to just give you a free advert for your business.

In this episode, David walks through how to prepare a press release and explains why you need to come up with a news story that someone will actually want to publish. Sometimes it is your own personal journey, rather than your business, that’s the real story readers are interested in.

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Episode transcript:

Hello and welcome to episode seventy-five of The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast with myself David Pannell, co-founder of Vegan Business Tribe. And if you have a vegan business, or are thinking of starting one, then Vegan Business Tribe is here to support and inspire you not just to build a vegan business, but to build a SUCCESSFUL vegan business.

And we’ve just had the Easter holidays and Lisa and I spent an amazing few days in the Lake District here in the UK. And if you’ve never been to Cumbria then it’s quite a remote area of England; the Lake District is one of our national parks with numerous mountains to climb and cruiser trips to take along Lake Windermere and Ullswater, but it’s also the home of Beatrix Potter who was the creator of Peter Rabit so we were hoping that we would be in for quite a vegan-friendly trip. And… it gave us a lot to think about, because in some ways it was a really good vegan experience and in others it highlighted how much work there is still to do. We were really fortunate to be staying at Fox Hall Vegan B&B in Kendal run by the amazing Silvia and Chris who have a number of rescue animals in the grounds and they completely looked after us too. Because they didn’t just provide cooked breakfasts but also provided the most wonderful vegan evening meals and even a fully vegan packed lunch if you are planning to go out hiking for the day. We also got to visit Kat’s Vegan Kitchen in Keswick which is probably our favorite place to eat in the Lake District.

But apart from that two vegan havens, well – let’s just say that we had to rely on supermarket falafel and humous wraps more than once! Although we did find one shop that had a very expensive vegan fudge alternative and a couple of places offering a vegan ice-cream option, but even though no matter how small the town or village there were plenty of places offering food, veganism wasn’t the blanket convenience that we’ve got used to living in our vegan bubbles. We spent a lot of time walking disappointed from cafe to cafe looking for a single vegan option that wasn’t tomato soup. So, I am pleased to announce that Lisa and I are now moving to the Lake District to open up a vegan cafe! Well, not quite yet – but with the amount of tourists the area gets, and just seeing how busy the couple of vegan places we found were, I was genuinely surprised that more places were not popping up on our Happy Cow app – there’s definitely a real opportunity there!

Right, so on to today’s topic because it does kind of link with our trip to the Lakes, because we really had to go looking to find vegan places, we had to rely on word of mouth recommendations and mentions on review sites. And for many businesses, this is a really important part of their marketing mix, but sometimes there is a more direct option to get the story of your business out there, but it’s one that not a lot of us take. And that’s PR, or public relations, or getting your company mentioned in newspapers and magazines, or more likely now, on news websites. But most of us don’t really understand how this relationship works, and we think that journalists might just find out all about our businesses and then write a story about it. But the reality is if you read a news story about a vegan company or new product, the website or magazine didn’t just go out and hunt that story down – the story is usually appearing because that company sent out a press release. These stories rarely just happen by happy accident.

Now, you don’t need to be a celebrity with a new book to sell to get the news interested in you. In fact, you don’t even need to be a big company to send out press releases – you just need to have something NEWSWORTHY or interesting to talk about. We have far more news outlets than actual news, so these websites, magazines and newspapers all need a constant stream of new and interesting things to write about. Or rather, things that their readership are going to find interesting.

Which is why, quite often, the news outlets are less interested in your business or the fact that you have a new product out (that’s not news, that’s an advert) and are more interested in the story behind the company. When Vegan Business Tribe member Dr Laura Freeman launched Plant Based Health Online, she got featured in a number of national newspapers and magazines. Lisa even wrote about Laura for our monthly article in Vegan Food & Living Magazine. And the reason that Laura’s story got picked-up was not because the papers thought their readers would be interested in a new online service to help people fight diseases by eating a plant-based diet, but because Laura herself has an amazing story. Laura is a former NHS doctor who, when she was 12 weeks pregnant, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Fortunately, the tumor was able to be removed shortly after Laura’s daughter was born and the story had a happy ending – but this lead Laura to research more about what causes cancers and she found a lot of peer-reviewed scientific studies about how a plant-based diet significantly lowers that risk but that wasn’t forming part of her training as a GP. And the research showed that it was not just the risk of cancer that was decreased, but the risk of heart disease and diabetes which were all diseases that she was regularly treating as an NHS doctor. The evidence was so overwhelming that Laura moved to a vegan diet herself and eventually left the NHS to start her own virtual GP consultations through Plant Based Health Online, helping people reverse conditions like heart disease through plant-based diets.

Now THAT’S a story people want to read about. Had Laura just sent out a press-release talking about her new vegan online consultancy, I doubt anyone would have picked it up – especially not the national papers. They would have seen it for what it was, just asking for a free advert for her new business. But because she had this amazing story about how the business started, the news outlets knew their readers would find it a really interesting story to read. So, before we even go into details about how you put together and send out a press release, the first question you need to ask yourself is: what do you have that is actually newsworthy to talk about? A lot of our Vegan Business Tribe members have amazing stories behind their companies: Justin Bone from VetoMeto, went from being homeless and an alcoholic living in a garage to launching his own London vegan restaurant; Steve Hutchins from DoGood Vegan Dogfood started the business after he and his partner rescued a beagle being sold as food in a cage in a Cambodian street market; Graham Henry from Henry & Henry went from weighing 17 stone to now weighing 11 stone and Graham and his wife Annette now teach others how to do the same; Jay Charlton was a fashion designer for many of the main high-street brands for 15 years but left to set up her Viva La Vegan clothing company after becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the environmental impact and social justice concerns that there are in the mainstream fashion industry. These are all stories that people actually want to read about, and if you have a similar story behind why you set up your business then you are far more likely to get results from approaching news outlets and magazines with that tale. Remember, they are looking for a story, not to give someone a free promo for their business – they have an advertising department for that!

And if you haven’t got a great story to lead with, then create one. Now, I don’t mean just make one up, you’ll just get found out at some point, but anyone can build a business or do something that gives you a story to tell. When Blue O’Connor launched vegan fragrance company Kings Grooming, he also launched the men’s mental health organisation Talk Club which the sales from Kings funded. Damian Sciberras from Short Stop Video Production started to donate his film-making services to his favourite vegan animal rescue which led to him becoming the cameraman for one of the UK’s biggest vegan influencers. Louis Sandford, founder of Avocardo who we’ve had on this podcast in the past, he just started wearing a huge sandwich board advertising his vegan greetings card company and wandered around city parks talking to people. Not only did he pick up a load of new orders, he ended up on the local BBC news. So, if you think you don’t really have much of a story, or you have a boring product or service, then before you think about doing a press release, spend some time working out what have you got that will actually make your company newsworthy in the first place.

And if you are going to use a PR agent then they should be able to work with you to find the interesting angle to your company. They will know what kinds of stories different news outlets will be looking for. Newspapers and local news stations will want to focus on the human-interest angle; websites like Vegconomist will want to write strictly about the business wins; and magazines like the Vegan Society’s ‘The Vegan’ and VegFest’s Forca Vegan will want to cover how your business is helping the vegan cause or how it relates to activism. And if you have a bit of a budget then it is very worthwhile engaging with a professional PR agent. We’ve got Eden Green PR and Dark Green PR here in the UK, both ethically-vegan run PR companies who have good links with Vegan Business Tribe. We have the amazing Katrina Fox who is based in Australia but works globally and is the go-to guru for vegan PR and even has her own ‘Vegans in the Limelight’ PR course you can take. And what these people have is years, sometimes even decades, of connections and relationships with editors. When a magazine or website receives a press release from one of these people, they know there’s a good chance that it’s going to be an interesting and well-presented story. What a PR agent will also give you is a dose of tenacity in the follow-up. Because it’s not unusual to send out a press release and simply not hear anything back, but for a PR agent it’s their JOB to get that story covered, so they will call, email and just generally bother a news outlet to make sure they saw the story and also find out if there’s a different angle that would be better suited to their publication if the story is rejected.

But, you can also do all this yourself – and many companies do. Will you get the same results? Well, possibly, with some practice, some inside knowledge and if you have the time to do the follow-ups. For instance, I still use PR companies when we’ve got something we want to shout about even though I’m comfortable writing the releases myself, because I know the PR agent will have the relationships with the editors that I don’t and I’m paying for their time to do the following-ups which is something I don’t have time to do myself. But you can still get very good results yourself if you don’t have the budget to engage a PR agent. Or it might be that you’re in a full-time marketing role for your business and have the time to diligently follow-up on your press releases and want to start developing those relationships with the editors yourself which is a really worthwhile thing to do. With a little bit of guidance you can still get your story in the news if you have a good enough story.

So before you start planning out a press release, spend that time working out what that great story is first. Take a look at your own personal journey and find out if there’s an interesting founder’s story for you to tell, and if not then do some brainstorming about what campaign you could launch or what challenge you could set yourself that people will want to read about. I had a friend who ran the 200 miles from Leeds in Yorkshire to Downing Street in London to hand-deliver her petition to Government – and it made for a far better PR story than just setting up an online petition ever would have.

Remember that an amazingly-written press release about a dull, uninteresting story will go nowhere. But I have seen many mediocrely written press releases about something truly remarkable still get the interest of a journalist or editor.

So once you’re sure you’ve got something really exciting to shout about, the first thing to decide is who is likely going to be interested in covering it. If it’s a specifically vegan story then we now have dedicated vegan news outlets like Plant Based News, Green Queen Media and magazines like Vegan Food & Living and Vegan Life. Make some time to get familiar with the outlets and what kinds of stories they cover. Do Vegconomist just announce new vegan companies or do they cover very specific stories about successful funding rounds and new innovation in the market? I’ll give you a clue, it’s the second. If you want to get in Vegan Food & Living Magazine, then take a look at the sorts of stories they publish and the types of companies that get mentioned in their pages to see if you are a good fit. If you want to get in your local newspaper, spend some time reading the local news stories that mention businesses and see how they all tie into a local interest or show the area in a good light and mold your story to match. If you want to get into the wider news, then do a search for vegan news stories that have made it into the mainstream media and find out which journalist covered it. Often, if a journalist has covered a news story about one vegan business they may be more open to a story about another one.

And if you are regularly writing your own press releases for your company you can get to know the publications and get extra information from the editors – and it’s especially worthwhile developing this relationship if you are working with a really niche news outlet. For example, often magazines publish issues on certain themes and topics that they will plan months ahead, and if you know this then you can tie a story into one of these themes, such as women’s health or children’s food. So ask magazines if they have any themes coming up over the next few months that they are looking for stories about.

Most magazines and news outlets will publish an email address for you to send stories to, and over time you may also strike up a relationship with an individual direct. But once you know who you’re going to contact you then need to pitch your story at them, and this is basically all a press release is. It’s an email with the details of a story in a really concise format which some journalists will just publish based on what you have sent and others will want to contact you to develop it into a fuller story. In my experience, if it’s a well-written press release then there’s a good chance the journalist or editor will simply publish an edited version of what you sent them. However, they will receive hundreds of press-releases a week (the big news agencies may even get thousands) so you need to make sure you get all the vital information over about who you are and what the story is in just a few sentences.

So, start the email with a single headline that captures your entire story. Don’t be cryptic or try to be clever, if your story is about your company winning an exclusive supplier deal to Tescos supermarket, then your title should be: Jennifer’s Vegan Drinks wins 2 year exclusive supplier deal to Tescos supermarket. If the story is about your personal story, then tell that whole story in your title, such as: Butcher turns vegan and launches plant-based sausages company.

Next in your email, you should write a couple of short paragraphs that expand on this headline explaining the who, what, where, when and why of your story. Again, you need to keep this concise, even considering using easy to scan bullet points rather than long paragraphs about your story.

Next, if you can find some, provide some statistics to back up your story. Journalists LOVE stats and if you’re writing to a non-vegan publication about a vegan topic then include some background statistics on the rise of veganism. Go check out The Vegan Society’s statistics page on their website, it is a fantastic resource and will give you everything you need to show how many people are taking up a vegan diet. Journalists love to link their stories to what’s happening in the wider world at the moment and it might be that your story lets them cover a bigger story, such as the rise of veganism, from a more personal angle.

And finally, include more details on how to contact you or how they can learn more about your company – include your direct phone number as well as your email address in case the journalist just wants to call you up and ask some questions.

All this should be in the main body of your email: so the headline; a couple of short paragraphs covering the who, what, where, when, why; some handy statistics to back up the story, if you can; and your contact details. Then if you have already written a longer press-release (ie you have written the article for them to save them time) then attach this also. And like I said, if it is well written and is a genuinely interesting story, then you might find that they publish the story pretty much as you have written it. They will remove any blatant sales speak though so keep the story the focus and work in any mentions of your business and what it does as part of that story.

Now, you don’t have to write the story yourself, that is the journalist’s job after all, but most PR agents will do this to present the journalist with a finished piece that they can edit rather than having to write something from scratch. And it might be that you are happy to handle the press release and you hire an experienced news copy-writer to just write it up into a short story for you to send on. But if you are going to write the story yourself then again use the same rules of getting over your who, what, where, when, why really early on in the piece. You’re writing a news story, not a piece of literature!

I’ve been trained in copywriting, I studied it as part of my marketing degree, I had to do it as part of my CPD when I was in the Chartered Institute of Marketing and I’ve been to copywriting workshops, but the very best people I’ve found to learn copywriting skills from – without a doubt – is old local newspaper journalists. I was fortunate enough to have one as a friend for many years and he probably taught me more about getting someone’s attention and getting your facts over in a really small amount of words than I ever learnt at a marketing seminar. These are the people who know they only have a couple of opening lines to get someone’s interest before they turn the page, and if you’re interested in learning more about copywriting go pick up a copy of your local paper and read through the local interest stories. Within a couple of sentences, a good newspaper writer will have established all the facts. So if you are going to write your own press release then keep the same hierarchy. Give the who, what, where, when, and then the why. Because if the journalist does want to re-write your story then you’ve given them all the facts to do that straight away. Once you’ve established these, then go into the background a little more and make sure to include some short and to-the-point quotes from yourself or an expert in the field.

This then leaves one really important part of creating a press release which I haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s the photo. It used to be that all newspapers and magazines had a fleet of photographers on their payroll that would be dispatched across the country to cover a news story. Now, most news outlets will be expecting you to provide a photo along with your press release and that photo might even be the difference between your article getting published or not. Lisa and I got on the the front cover of the Vegan Trade Journal because we hired a photographer to take us up a freezing hillside at the break of dawn and had vegetables thrown at us like confetti. It made a brilliant fun photo and gave the publication an excellent cover image. It is worth spending both time and a little money on getting some really good photographs taken to go with a news story – and usually the editors will want those photos to be of people not products. Find yourself a photographer and brainstorm some ideas for an interesting photograph, something that will really make people stop scrolling or flicking through a magazine and want to find out what’s going on. Create a photo that the magazine will want to give a full-page to – and I can’t emphasise enough how much of a boost it will give to your press release.

You should include the best version of the photo in your initial email, but also provide a link to a gallery where they can download alternative high-res files. It might be that a landscape version of the photograph might fit the publication’s layout better, or they want a version that has space to put a headline on it – and again a good photographer will know to take lots of variations of the same shot to give publications these kinds of options. If you’re going to be sending out a lot of press releases then it’s worthwhile creating a media section on your website that has the high-res versions of your photos and some quotes, business stats and biographical information that journalists can copy and paste from.

And that’s pretty much everything there is to sending out a press release. But unfortunately, just SENDING the press release is the easy bit, it’s the follow-up that will get your story published. And I know, I know, I get it – we’re vegan, we don’t like to be pushy, we’re all about avoiding conflict. But that will get you nowhere in PR! And if you genuinely can’t bring yourself to do follow-ups then maybe that’s where you should be looking at using a PR agent, however – think about the change it would make to your business if more people found out about you. Think about why you started a vegan business in the first place, to move the vegan scene forward. Isn’t that worth you going outside your comfort zone a little and picking up the phone or at the very least sending a couple of follow-up messages? If you are confident that your message needs to be heard by a wide audience, then suck it up and follow-up! You need to make sure that your email was seen. Journalists can get hundreds of emails a day and they simply don’t get a chance to look at them all. It might well be that they are actually interested in your story but just didn’t see it. Call them, ask them if now is a good time for a quick chat and run through your story idea in 30 seconds. They will soon tell you if they are interested or not.

I’ve often been told by professional agents that PR is 80% about being persistent and not giving up. There is a lot of noise out there for you to cut through and just because one publisher isn’t interested, it doesn’t mean that no-one is. They might not pick up your story because they have just run a similar one, or it might even be that one of their major advertisers is a competitor and they don’t want to upset them. There is never any guarantee that a press release will get picked up and published, but if you’ve sent a story out to 30 or 40 different news outlets and no-one runs with it, then come right back to the story you’re sending out. Is there a more interesting way you can present it, is there something you can do, like a PR stunt or a challenge, to make it more newsworthy?

And then finally, if you do get all this great coverage for your business – then shout about that too! Leverage your PR. So if you are in a magazine then take a photo of you holding the magazine open on your article and share that on your social media. Screen-grab online articles and create a gallery on your website. Let people know that you are in the news, because it’s a real indicator of success. The general public doesn’t realise that the only reason you’ve appeared in the news is because you sent out a press release and badgered the publication to publish it. To them it just proves that you are a newsworthy, remarkable company that people wanted to write about.

OK, so because this has been quite a practical session, let’s just have a bullet-point run-down of what we’ve covered about how to do a press release:

  1. News outlets are looking for interesting stories that their readers will want to read, not to give your company a free advert.  So spend time working out what that interesting story is, and a lot of the time it might be about your own personal story.
  2. If you haven’t got anything that is newsworthy about your business (other than it exists!) then create something.  Come up with a challenge or a PR stunt, like my friend who ran from Leeds to Downing Street to hand in her petition to the Government.
  3. Take a look at the different publications and news outlets and see which is a fit for your company.  How are the stories on the Vegconnomist website different to those you find in Vegan Food & Living Magazine for example and what angle can you pitch to them that suits their readership?
  4. Always start your press release email with a single headline that captures your entire story.  Don’t be cryptic or try to be clever, but do cover what makes the article newsworthy – such as: Butcher turns vegan and launches plant-based sausages company.
  5. Journalists love statistics, so go grab some from The Vegan Society’s statistics page on their website or include your own if you have them.
  6. Make sure that all your information is in the main body of your email in a really concise way – so the headline; a couple of short paragraphs covering the who, what, where, when, why; some handy statistics to back up the story, and your contact details.
  7. If you are going to write a longer article yourself, then attach this to the email as a seperate file.  You don’t HAVE to write the full article, but if it’s well written then a journalist will usually just edit this than having to write something from scratch. 
  8. A good photograph might make the difference between your news getting published or not.  It might, if it’s good enough, even get your story a full page spread or even onto the cover like mine and Lisa’s vegetable confetti one did.  So spend some time brainstorming with your photographer about what really fun and positive photo you can create.
  9. SENDING the press release is the easy bit. What really makes the difference is the follow-up.  Journalists receive hundreds of press releases so make sure you get on the phone or send a follow-up email a couple of days later to see if they saw yours and to re-pitch it in 30 seconds if they didn’t.
  10. If you have the budget, do consider using a professional PR agent for some or all of the process.  They will have the connections that you don’t yet and it’s part of their job to know what angles different publications will go for and to follow-up if they don’t hear back.  We’ve got a number of vegan PR companies, including Eden Green PR, Dark Green PR and Katrina Fox who also has her own Vegans in the Limelight PR course.  However, you can do all this yourself if you have the time, and building up those relationships with the journalists and editors in your market will prove to be a really good investment for the future.

And that is it! OK, so a really useful session which hopefully you’ve taken something away from – but remember, you don’t need to wait until something newsworthy happens in your business, you can go out and create that news like a number of our Vegan Business Tribe members have. And just a reminder that if you are a regular listener then you can go beyond this podcast and come and join us on veganbusinesstribe.com where you will find lots more really useful content and information to help you grow a successful vegan business. And if you join us as a paid member, not only do you get access to all our events and networking meet-ups, as well as all our member-only content in the academy and full access to all our other members in our community hub, but your membership also supports all the work that we do at Vegan Business Tribe to champion the vegan business scene around the world. Not just the podcast and the website but all the behind the scenes work and influencing that we do too.

So go check out the website at veganbusinesstribe.com, click on the join button on the homepage and you’ll get a list of everything you get access to as a member so that we can help you grow your vegan business too.

Thank you so much for joining us on this one, Lisa and I we really appreciate you giving up your time to listen. And if you found this episode useful then I will be forever in your debt if you gave us a like, a share or even a 5 star review if your platform lets you do that. We’re going to go research sites for vegan cafes in the Lake District and I will see you on the next one!

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