Even the most newsworthy companies and organizations typically can’t dpeend on “hard news” to consistenlty keep them in the public’s eye.
This is where feature stories come in. Feature stories humanize, educate and entertain. Features can offer greater opportunities than news releases, because they are more detailed and have longer “shelf lives” (get used over a longer period of time). They can help you get publicity when you have no news and increase your credibility. Features can be particularly valuable for professional services and not-for-profit organizations, which typically do not have much news.
However, a feature story cannot directly promote your product, service or organization. Effective features put your service or product into a larger context, one that will interest the media and their readers or viewers.
In some cases, feature stories can be the mainstay of the publicity program. One client did not have any news for more than a year. In that timeframe, I placed a major feature every few months, effectively spreading the word about his software.
This post will discuss how to develop and pitch feature stories. I will discuss writing a feature in my next post.
But first, some background.
Basically, there are two types of feature stories: general and bylined.
A general feature is often designed as a background piece, something editors can use to craft their own stories. The feature is designed to assure the company, product or message is included.
For example, in my work with the American Camp Association (ACA) Northern California, I’ve developed about two-dozen features on such topics as the types of summer camps, tips on how to choose a summer camp, and the benefits of the summer camp experience.
I make this material available to editors who either run the articles verbatim or take information from them to add to their own articles. The resulting articles often include many of the ACA’s basic messages.
For background features, you can contact editors at multiple publications.
That is not the case with bylined features, where the publication will print your article as you’ve submitted it (or basically as you’ve submitted it) and indicate that it came from you.
Typically such articles include a “byline” at the end, giving the author’s name, company, credentials and contact information. Here is a sample: “Mary Jones is president of Good Grammar, a writing and editing service (www.goodgrammar.com). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Bylined features can be powerful because they assure your basic message is included and position the author as an expert.
Whichever type of feature you choose, here are some steps for developing a feature:
Choose a topic.
Some ideas to consider are:
How to’s – The advice story can explain how to do almost everything from hanging wallcoverings to giving good presentations.
Seasonal features – Every year we see articles tied to events or seasons, such as how to save on taxes, how to care for your skin during the summer and what to give for the holidays. Does your product or service lend itself to a seasonal treatment?
Personalities – An unusual background, hobby or achievement can make for an entertaining article.
Trends – Editors love trends. What people, organizations and forces are making a difference in your market?
Historical retrospective – An entertaining and informative “look backward” can help people get a perspective on the present and future.
Case study or application story – Showing how a product or service worked in a specific instance is particularly popular with technology publications. (More on this in a subsequent post.)
Choose an angle or theme.
Once you have your topic, determine your angle. The topic is the general category (e.g., weight control). The angle is the exact story (e.g., unusual ways to lose weight).
Then outline your story. This doesn’t have to be a formal outline, but it should generally cover the points you want to make. The abstract for the construction management story (below) listed the nine “pitfalls” the author was going to cover.
Prepare an abstract
Write a short (less than one page) summary or outline of the story. You’ll need this if you pitch a bylined article to the media. But it is also valuable for guiding your writing even if you’re writing a background article or one for your own website.
Here is a sample:
Common Pitfalls When Starting with Online Construction Management
Only about 10 percent of all construction firms, mostly larger ones, are using online construction management, and users typically have less than five years’ experience with such systems. This makes it difficult for new users to learn from others.
The result is that many new users will make the same types of mistakes when starting with online construction management.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. This article will discuss nine common pitfalls new users often experience, and suggest ways to overcome or deal with them. The pitfalls are:
Trying to implement non-essential tasks that don’t really benefit the user.
Choosing software that is too complex for the users.
Selecting software that cannot be customized as needed.
Choosing software that does not address the user’s real issues or important tasks.
Selecting software that is too expensive for its benefits.
Failing to “sell” the software to encourage participation.
Failing to test the system out for the intended uses.
Trying to automate too many different tasks at once.
Trying to run too many projects on the new system right away.
The goal is to help contractors make informed decisions so that the online system can help them reduce their workloads, save time and improve their profitability.
Pitching a Feature
Pitch general and contributed features slightly differently.
To pitch a general feature:
- Write the article or at least prepare a detailed outline.
- Contact editors at the target publications. Outline your story and give your credentials, explaining why you are qualified to write on the particular subject.
- Ask the editors if they are interested in receiving the material. (Alternatively, but you could just send the articles without pitching first, but I recommend getting “buy-in” at the beginning,)
To pitch a bylined feature:
- First check the publication to make sure that it accepts bylined articles. (This should be obvious, but people often overlook this step.)
- Contact one publication at a time. (There are a few exceptions to this rule, but generally one-at-a-time is a good policy.)
- Submit your abstract. Outline your story idea and your credentials.
My advice is not to write the article until you have “buy in” from the editor. Chances are that he or she might want some changes, and it’s best to get that information up front, before you start writing.
Of course, you might not even care about placing the feature. You might just want to post it on your own site.
And that brings us to my next post, which will discuss how to write effective feature stories.