What are features, how do features differ from news stories and how can you gain coverage as part of an editorial feature?
I’m dealing with these topics this month in my PR blog.
There might not be as much of a rush to plan a feature (or being part of it) compared to a new story, but the process requires more consideration and forward planning to achieve good results.
It’s really a case of ‘think, plan then do’ here. The first job is to consider (as with news content) which are the key publications and outlets that your company or organisation should be included in.
Features are more in-depth articles. As mentioned, they may be less timely than a ‘news story’. They could consist of an interview, expert advice on a topic or look at in-depth trends and/or analysis of happenings in your sector.
Usually, features are planned well in advance with a features diary or ‘editorial calendar’ (sometimes up to a year ahead for trade publications, although, beware – features lists may change from time to time with some topics being dropped or amended and news ones added).
How – and when – should you get involved? Firstly – do some research; however, this can be time consuming and is one of the reasons companies pay PR professionals to advise them on such matters.
Get hold of copies of all the key publications and media outlets covering your sector or sphere of interest and read their features, getting to know what they are interested in and how they deal with different topics.
As well as the obvious titles (or indeed online outlets) covering your sector – think laterally. So if you specialise in IT, think not about just titles that cover IT – might your feature idea be interesting to a publication that is read by HR (Human Resources) professionals, too?
Two publications in a sector often cover matters in very different ways. For example, with trade publications for the UK passenger rail sector, one leading title always focused on the business and political aspects behind railway stories, whereas other magazines were strong on nostalgia (“the golden age of steam” and so on) and appealed to train enthusiasts.
Such differences are easy to spot; elsewhere they may be subtler. Within social care, another sector I have worked in, there were titles aimed at front line social workers and others looking after vulnerable people, whereas another sector publication was aimed at managers making strategic decisions within health and social care.
So this is why it is particularly important that to do your homework carefully before you approach the features editor or journalist in question to pitch your idea.
As with news stories, which I have addressed before, there is no point pitching a feature idea to a publication that will have no intention of using it; it will do your reputation no good and is time wasted.
Request the features list (some may refer to it as their ‘forward features list’ or planner), which may be available online, from the publication’s media pack, or with a quick email to the relevant editorial contact. Establish the deadline for each feature.
Take a close look at what your key publications have planned for the next six months or years and what they have run previously. How do they cover various topics?
How can you or your organisation contribute in a valuable way?
• Do you have strong views on the marketplace you operate in and the latest trends – do you have a genuinely different viewpoint that you can back up with facts, figures and perhaps case studies?
• Can you offer an in-depth interview to cover this angle (which is hopefully something the publication has not featured before or at least not for a while) or provide interesting photo opportunities?
• Or can one of your customers or service users offer an interesting perspective on new developments, which will gain them some publicity too (make sure you approach third parties first before going to the publication with your idea)?
With a planning grid at the ready, including key titles and editorial contacts and deadlines for these publications, your feature ideas and the resources you will need to help provide a good contribution, time to approach your media.
It’s a good idea to do this months in advance of when the features will appear, especially if you are new to doing this and you are approaching these media for the first time. I will deal with techniques for ‘pitching’ your feature ideas to journalists next time and hints for gaining inclusion, even if it doesn’t initially go to plan.