Press Releases Don’t Work, So Try An Approach That Does

It’s exciting to see your product on the glossy pages of a magazine, and provides great brand exposure to new customers. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs don’t know how to get featured. I used to be one of them, but I’ve learned how to get my products the press they deserve and you can too. Here’s my story:

When I started my inspirational t-shirt company, Tees For Change, I spent nearly $500 on an online service to write and distribute a press release. They said I’d reach “tens of thousands of journalists,” but no one called.

I thought my timing was off, so I tried again the next month. This time, I hired someone to write the release, and distributed it via a very popular PR service. It cost me another $500, I received only one response, from a journalist who wanted a free sample. I sent her a shirt that day – and never heard from her again, despite my follow-up calls and emails.

This probably sounds all too familiar to you. The problem isn’t your product – it’s that press releases just don’t work!

What I learned from my experience is that I was competing with thousands of other businesses for space in the inboxes of those tens of thousands of journalists. To earn their attention and interest, I tried something new.

I purchased a media list, and created my own list of journalists and editors who were working on holiday gift guides for their publications. By reading past issues of the magazines, I learned that each one approached their gift guides with an angle:

  • gifts for teens
  • green gifts
  • gifts under $50
  • gifts for moms
  • last-minute gifts

To earn the attention of the editors and journalists on my list, I wrote a pitch about my t-shirts being “gifts that give back.” My pitch told a story about my shirts that stood out from the crowd and hooked the journalists I sent it to. Over 20 editors wrote back asking for photos, samples and more information on my shirts! While not all of them ended up featuring my shirts, I made over $20,000 in sales from mentions in holiday gift guides that year. Some of the magazines that didn’t use my shirts for their gift guides contacted me later to feature them in another issue and I received even more press.

The next year I did it again, and received even more buzz. Unlike my attempts at press releases, this time journalists were calling me. I realized this was a PR strategy I could employ all year round.

Press releases can be useful, but usually only after the media is interested in your story. Busy journalists are looking for stories to tell every day, and you can help them by offering specific story ideas. Launching your Spring clothing line doesn’t make for very interesting copy, but the story of how your product gives back to your community does. I planted a tree for each tee I sold, and the story of how many trees I planted was one the media loved to tell.

If you’re ready to stop wasting money on press releases and invest time in telling your product’s story, here’s how to get started today:

  1. Make a list of 10-15 magazines/blogs/TV shows you want to see your product on this year.
  2. Flip through each magazine (you can do this for free at Barnes and Noble), read each blog and watch each TV show and make a list of the topics they cover so you can target your pitch to their audience.
  3. Find and download each magazine’s editorial calendar, which is usually found in the advertising section of the magazine’s website. Or Google search the magazine’s name + Editorial Calendar. Find upcoming issue themes that fit your product.
  4. Make a list of the contact information for each editor you want to reach. You can often find their email addresses in the masthead of the magazine, on the website’s contact us page, in the editorial calendar, or by calling the magazine directly.
  5. Write a story idea for each individual magazine. For example: Your sports product for women could be great in a women’s health magazine, or for the fitness issue of a magazine for moms, but each will need their own approach.
  6. Email each of your contacts with your story idea, and don’t forget to follow up one week later, and again 2 weeks later if you haven’t heard back.

Remember that magazines work 4 – 6 months in advance of the issue release date, so you should pitch products for December gift guides in the summer. And don’t forget that the winter holidays aren’t the only time for gift guides! Many magazines feature guides for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, grad gifts, Valentine’s Day and Earth Day.

By following the steps above you’ll be on your way to getting more press and better buzz than any press release can provide.


Need more actionable advice?
Get your FREE weekly marketing “to-do” list
straight to your inbox every Wednesday:
Andreea AyersAndreea Ayers works with product-based entrepreneurs to help them grow their product line. She provides game-changing tips and strategies for wholesale, retail, publicity and marketing at and


  1. As someone who works in PR, I whole-heartedly disagree with the blanket statment that press releases don’t work. The problem is that business owners often don’t know how to use them the same way an agency with specialized knowledge and contacts does.

    Did you write the release in AP style–the only way journalists will take your information seriously? Did you pitch individual contacts with your release and offer them exclusive content?

    I’m glad you found a method that works, but next time, say “press releases didn’t work FOR ME…here’s what did.”

  2. Excellent post. I really enjoyed reading it. I will be back for more.

  3. Great insight! I actually love the headline / title of this article because it is a BOLD statement, which intrigued me to click on it. I have always tried to go against the grain, press releases seem to be the “norm”, Andreea found a way to go against the grain, great post.

  4. I too think press releases can work, if used correctly, but I love the approach here! DIY press relations, yeah! I worked in PR a few
    years ago (a skill really useful to have as a businessperson!), and you’re right — it’s about pitch specificity, and knowing what the readers of a particular blog or print pub, or viewers of a t.v. show, are interested in. When I had to call trade journalists to pitch my PR clients, I always imagined them saying, “Tell me why my readers care,” and this helped me get my pitch precisely geared to that pubs particular audience. So yes, read the pubs you plan to pitch and make your pitches highly targeted to that audience. And the rest of the advice here is spot on as well. Well done! : )
    (Oh, and there’s always HARO – a great resource for those doing DIY PR.)

  5. Thank you for that perspective. I do find myself trying to ‘push’ a product I know will work if I just had the right approach.

    In my case its a radio show, but still, thanks!

  6. Pretty cool idea! Now I really have to try this and see how it works for my art and armour!

  7. I’ve had a mixed bag in regards to running PR’s. Meaning that some landed in Google News, received plenty of attention and put money in my pocket while others (going through the same press release company) for newsworthy items pretty much ended up in the trash can, meaning no traffic.

  8. Stoked I have read this, just been wasting some time and money on press releases. Going to give you tactics a try!
    Thanks Andreea

  9. Most of the value of press releases comes from SEO; the value of all the backlinks you gain by others distributing your press release for you. This can be worth many thousands of dollars depending on your product or service.

  10. Practical info. Reminds me of my earlier attempts at with newapaper advertising.Great advice.