The Cold Hard Truth About What to Do With Your Press Release

6 min read

Your podcasting project, bet it a show, crowdfunding campaign, or something else entirely, is ready for the public. It’s time to up your game beyond the usual social media word-of-mouth. You’ve written a press release to make everything official-sounding.

What now?

Press releases are a valuable and often underutilized tool in the independent podcaster’s arsenal. With some writing and networking one can build a list of outlets and/or journalists who’re likely to be interested in covering your work. That said, one only gets so many shots at cold-emailing a stranger. Join me, a podcast journalist who has gotten their fair share of press releases, as I provide some tips for making a good impression on the group of people most likely to kickstart word-of-mouth advertisement.

The Press Release

If you’ve not written a release before, I recommend starting by building your podcast’s website and press kit. The website gives your potential journalist a landing page on which to find out more details and choose a way to listen. Just sending an Apple Podcasts link to a journalist who uses Android is a dead-end street.

What’s a press kit and what should go in it? I thoroughly recommend the ur-text on podcast press kits: Press Play on a Podcast Press Kit by Elena Fernández Collins and Wil Williams.

With the website and press kit together you’ll have naturally collected all of the boilerplate information about your podcast into one place and have practice at boiling down the concept of your show into an elevator pitch, which will be invaluable in writing a release.

For concrete details on writing a formal press release I recommend A Guide to Unleashing Your Podcast’s Press Release by, oh look who it is: Elena Fernández Collins (hint: They’re someone you should have on your radar for the useful advice and coverage).

Who to email

You’ve got a press release for your show typed up and ready. Who do you send it to? Therein lies the tricky bit: I don’t know your situation. Nor, in my experience, do most “respect the grind” podcasters attempting to brute-force their way into relevancy.

Any attempt to list specific people is undermined by two things:

  • Critics have distinct tastes in genres they’ll cover and will balk at cold-calling emails that don’t understand those preferences. Good luck getting my attention with a cryptocurrency podcast, for instance.
  • There’s high turnover in the podcast reporting beat. All of the top three people I’d recommend for general podcast submissions in 2018 have either closed their submissions or outright work elsewhere.

What I can do is point you in the right direction. Twitter is your friend here (for once). Most podcasters and podcast reporters have Twitter accounts, and inevitably will end up on Twitter lists with generic titles like “podcast reporters” or “podcast press.” Those are excellent starting points. From there you want to make sure to visit either the personal website that reporter writes blog posts for, or the outlet they regularly freelance with to collect important information.

  • Do they cover podcasts in similar genres to yours?
  • Are they currently taking unsolicited submissions?
  • What’s the email those submissions should be sent to?
  • Is that person still actively working?

That last question might seem ridiculous but as I’ve been writing this article I got an email (sent through a website explicitly saying I don’t want submissions) that opened with “Hello, Audible Feast.” Not only am I not in any way affiliated with the blog Audible Feast, neither of us have posted a podcast review in well over a year. This is a clear sign the person behind the keyboard was simply Googling “podcast review” and going down the list, copy-pasting the same press release into any Contact Me form they could find. So fast, it seems, they forgot to change the name from the last person contacted.

If you see an opportunity, take it. Just make sure you’ve done due diligence before showing your entire ass with a single button push. Reporters talk to each other. If they like your show that’s a huge benefit. If you show you can’t even be bothered to type their name? Not so good.

Should I even send a press release?

Do not listen to imposter syndrome. Someone out there’s going to be interested in your show, crowdfunding campaign, network announcement, or whatever you’ve got in the pipeline. It’ll take some doing to find them, but they’re out there. Corporate-backed podcasts are sending out press releases for individual episodes of chat shows as if Z-list sports celebrities are newsworthy.

The majority of podcast press releases are sent either by corporate-backed shows who work with actual PR companies or bland dude-talking-about-thing-for-20-minutes affairs run by someone with marketing experience. Both melt together to form a homogenous sludge of generic, forgettable content.

Shows that rake in a modest house’s worth of money on Patreon are sending out press releases because they’ve hit a round number of episodes again. People with marketing and PR backgrounds are going to send press releases to everyone they can for any reason. Press releases sound professional and can give even the sloppiest podcast an air of legitimacy. That person who screwed up my name? The first sentence on their website has an egregious typo.

You can do this, and you’ll likely stand out.

Consider the world

April 2020 was rough for podcast journalists who had neither the energy nor fortitude to wade through press releases of every show that was launching COVID-19 spinoffs/special episodes for that sweet, sweet early pandemic SEO. They took to social media to beg podcasters to chill for five seconds. The emails kept coming.

With that in mind, here’s some questions to ask yourself before pressing send on a press release:

  • Does my podcast have any similarities to stressful current events?
  • Is there currently a period of civil unrest or a natural/civil disaster that affects the journalist(s) in question?
  • Are they actively working during these periods of unrest/danger?
  • Does the journalist I’m contacting explicitly express interest in covering such things?

If the answer to any of those is “I don’t know,” perhaps an email directly asking if the journalist would be interested in a press release would go down better than plugging your hip new true crime narrative about kids trapped in a wildfire to a journalist based out of California.

The Approach

Journalists are people. They just happen to people who every podcaster in the world will email with little to no effort because they’re shotgunning it to fifteen places at once. I had a form open on my website to collect people’s podcast review requests for a year and I averaged over a submission a day. I’ll never have time to actually check out everything beyond their elevator pitches.

Keep this in mind when contacting journalists. The more you can do to distill your message down to a few sentences while also recognizing you’re emailing them specifically, the more your email will stand out. Press release or not, getting a polite email does wonders in ensuring you break through my long-COVID + ADHD brain fog enough to warrant me remembering to reply or look at your show.

Follow-ups suck to send. I find a week minimum wait is a good rule of thumb before sending a second message to verify the person has received your information. That said, something like a press release traditionally never get direct replies. Don’t expect them unless a journalist is swept off their feet and wants to do coverage so bad they need an interview.

After the Coverage

There isn’t much of an industry standard when it comes to telling content creators about a review. In three years of writing podcast coverage I’ve only told three people when their post was going up, and they were people I interviewed who asked me for a ping. If you’re lucky your podcast will get an @ on Twitter when the outlet tweets about the article, but if it’s coverage with a critical slant they might avoid the inherent drama of grabbing your attention. They might also just simply have a policy of not tagging people. It’s complicated.

Luckily there’s a couple journalist info-watching tactics you can swipe to keep track of coverage of your podcast: Google Alerts. It’s free, it’s relatively easy to use, and it takes about half an hour to set up. Generate a bunch of terms along the lines of “[show title] review” and you’ll get a notification every time Google notices a new post online that matches those terms.

One could also follow in the footsteps of toxic celebrities on Twitter and make a column in Tweetdeck that spits out a live feed of searches for the name of your podcast. I urge you to consider the ramifications of intentionally seeking posts on a social media platform inherently designed to reward short, acerbic takes by people who are intentionally not tagging you. Not a lot of good can come from inserting yourself into conversations you are neither invited nor welcome to. Twitter is useful. Twitter sucks. Proceed with caution.

Gavin Gaddis is a freelance journalist and podcaster. They've worked as a media critic in various positions since 2011. You can find them on Twitter or at The Pod Report.