How to gain inclusion in features

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.

 

Don’t be too quick to judge

As a break from my series of blogs about PR and related writing skills, here is a topical article I have just written for the Albinism Fellowship website.

The Albinism Fellowship is a charity I support with my Public Relations and communications skills, and a hot topic at the moment is the way that Hollywood films often depict people with albinism – there is huge room for improvement on this.

I will be back next month with advice on features and how to gain coverage within this type of article, especially for small and medium sized businesses.

How to build on positive P.R. success

In my last blog, I dealt with some tips for dealing with a situation where you gain less publicity for your P.R. story than you expected.

This time, let’s consider the opposite scenario – how do you capitalise on a P.R. story that gets good coverage from your chosen media?

It’s very much a case of ‘striking while the iron is hot’; to quote an old adage. If the media like your story, then you should follow up as quickly as possible to ensure it is broadcast as widely as possible and you can make the most of your success.

So, think first, and then act quickly:

  • If you haven’t already, take stock of the coverage you have already gained for your news release. In which publications, websites or broadcast outlets was your story used, when, and what prominence was the story given? From your list, were any key media – those you felt should include the story – missing? This is the time to give them a quick ring or re-send your email with the news release and any supporting information, to see if they might now include it.
  • Make time for a quick follow-up call to those publications and so on that did include your news (but remember, try to time it well so you don’t call on their deadlines). Thank them for including the piece and ask if there is any more information they would like about the story; to do with your company in general, the people you featured, or the sector you work in. See tips on features below – they may be planning to cover your industry sector now or in future, which may generate more opportunities, so why not ask?
  • Features: Your news story might form the basis for a longer, ‘feature’ article, especially in the printed media. These are more in-depth articles than a short news story, which covers the basic facts in a timely fashion. Newspapers and magazine plan ahead with their features diaries. If your first press release was well received, and you genuinely have more to say on the issue, then contact the features editor of the publication(s) that included it and ask if they would be interested in a longer piece. But do think first – what angles could they cover in their feature? What would be of interest to them? What new information in terms of facts and figures, interviews or good quality photography could you provide at fairly short notice? Do you legitimately have more to say on the topic that would help you build a positive profile?
  • Do you have another good story to offer that can be issued ‘hot on the heels’ of your first news release? Remember, don’t issue something for the sake of it. As I have advised previously, the golden rules are: make sure it really is news, your release is well written and that you have something to say. If not, try other the tips above to capitalise on your success. It’s always a case of think first, plan – then do your proactive media liaison.

 

Why wasn’t my news release covered?

It’s a moment that PR professionals dread. Despite your best efforts, when you check for coverage, very few – or no – media outlets have used your carefully crafted news release.

You thought it was a great story – however, the journalists didn’t. A time of frustration, and perhaps with some explaining to do to your client if you work for a PR agency, or as a PR consultant.

All is certainly not lost, but it is probably worth taking a few minutes to evaluate why your news release didn’t get the coverage you felt it deserved, then taking note.

Here are some common reasons for a lack of coverage:

1. Bad timing – if you sent out a topical, timely press release, you may have been overtaken by (news) events. A bigger story that the media regarded as better than yours came up that day. Were journalists distracted by a breaking news story that was nothing to do with your organisation, but all news outlets needed to include? As a suggestion, consider sending out your news release again (however, before you do this, check it is still timely, that the content hasn’t been overtaken by events and, above all, it is still newsworthy)

2. Your rivals beat you to the post. This is one of the most annoying scenarios – a rival company or organisation got better coverage from their news release or event. But why? Were they quicker in issuing their release? Or had they built up a better rapport with the target media they were intending to cover their story? Time to be honest – did they simply have a better story on the day? Do rethink your approach, and perhaps come up with another story that is more likely to be covered next time

3. Awareness – how well do you rank? Are your target media aware of you; your company or organisation?  Or was this your first news release? If the latter, it can take a while to gain a foothold with the media, so don’t necessarily be deterred. If it’s your umpteenth release, it may be time for a serious strategy rethink. Is the type of media you sent your release to simply not interested in the your kind of news (again, be honest)? For instance, a technical story about a specialist industry-related topic may not appeal to the mainstream local media, unless there is a strong local angle they can grasp quickly. Will a journalist give you honest feedback (remember, no pestering reporters)? So think, plan and try to gain inclusion in another media segment

4. Returning to the point of my first two blogs this year; did you have a good enough story in the first place, that was well written enough to grab a journalist’s attention from the word go? Take some time to review your materials and list of upcoming news releases 

 5. Were you able to offer any ‘extras’ like good quality photographs, interview opportunities, follow-up opportunities for features (I will explain more about this in a future blog) or even video footage clips? Professional quality press images that relate to the story may swing the balance in favour of when offered to a regional print newspaper, for instance

If the coverage was weak or not what you expected, for instance; your story was given less prominence than you thought it warranted, try to work out why. Record every item of coverage that you did receive, and whether your key messages came across.

Make your pitch. How to ‘sell in’ news releases to the media

To gain media coverage for your news stories, you frequently need to put some extra work in.

Unless you are working for a recognised brand, or organisation that is often covered in the media and approached for stories and quotes, you might need to hit the phones.

Few of us particularly enjoy ‘cold calling’, but if you plan your approach carefully in advance, the process of ‘selling in’ your story should go smoothly and you should enjoy more coverage as a result.

You can’t automatically expect the media to pick up your news release and use it (although you might get lucky!). But a carefully thought out and timed phone call to key journalists working for your target media might yield results.

However, before picking up that phone, do consider carefully:

  • Do you have a good enough story in the first place, that your target publications and websites will want to run? See one of my previous blogs.
  • If you have a well-written news release and any supporting materials you need (such as photos, or a one page company background profile), choose your key target media well, composing a list of the most important outlets to contact directly. It may be worth tailoring your news release to suit different types of media; for instance, trade media are likely want more technical and product-based information; the daily newspaper in your town or city is more likely to respond to a people-based story
  • If you are going to call, pick your time carefully. Monthly and weekly magazines work to set copy deadlines, find out when they are from the publications before reaching for the phone and avoid making your call on deadline day! National papers may be receptive to a call between 11am or midday in the morning, following editorial meetings, or 2-3pm. Do avoid bothering journalists when they are especially busy meeting deadlines
  • When you do get through to a journalist on your target list, you need to get the point of your news story (which should be the introduction, if written correctly) across quickly and succinctly. You have around 15 seconds to gain their interest. Make sure, if they are interested or simply ask to see your copy to get a better idea of the story, you have it ready to email straight over
  • Once you’ve sent the story over (which of course should include relevant contact information) don’t pester the journalist with calls asking whether it will be used. Or ring later to ask why a press release didn’t get covered. This will not win you any friends in the media
  • Avoid sending unsolicited photos as attachments (as JPEGs and so on) to the media – journalists’ email in-boxes are often quite clogged and large files can cause resentment. Offer photos or visuals but wait for them to accept before sending those images
  • Keep detailed notes of the conversations, including when you called, which publication or outlets, and what the results were. This will help you build up valuable intelligence for your media relations campaign. Ultimately, you aim to reach the stage when journalists approach you for information!  

If you would like more advice on researching and writing good news releases that gain coverage, or on media relations in general, please email me: bennettwords@sky.com

 

http://www.bennettwords.biz

How to avoid common news release blunders

We all desire and expect coverage for our news releases, given the hard work that can go into researching and writing one – not to mention the boost it should give to your marketing efforts.

But what kind of news release content is likely to put reporters off, or reduce their level of interest in using your story?

Here are a few tips, based my experience in Public Relations:

  • Using jargon. If you’re writing for a technical, specialist media audience, producing a news release that is tailored for the job, it’s fine to expect a level of knowledge of the subject matter and craft your words accordingly. But our job is to make the journalist’s life easier, remember – copy that is difficult to follow and littered with buzz words from your industry or organisation won’t get used.
  • Providing no immediate ‘hook’ for the story, or having the main point of the news release buried five paragraphs down (or further) from the top. Journalists and editors are usually presented with a wide choice of new stories on any given day and make a quick decision about whether they will look at your story in any more depth. Get to the point quickly. They have plenty of other choices…
  • Not really enough news content. Please see my previous blog. There’s little point in issuing the news release in the first place if what you are doing is not that unusual or timely. Would you be interested in talking about the subject to a friend or your partner?
  • Making the release too long. Stick to the equivalent of two sides of A4 paper, including contact details for follow-up information (do make sure you include these, too). Journalists usually dread having to wade through lots of information; they tend to have short attention spans.

 

If you would like more advice on researching and writing good news releases that gain coverage, or on media relations in general, please email me: bennettwords@sky.com

 

http://www.bennettwords.biz

 

When not to issue that press release

Keen to see your own name or that of your organisation up in lights and gain some great media coverage this year?

That’s a great ambition, but to achieve success in Public Relations, it is important to realise when it simply isn’t worth sending a news release to the media.

Here are a few tips:

  • When there really isn’t enough news in your announcement. Journalists will always apply the ‘so what?’ test on receiving a news release before deciding whether to include your story. Ask yourself if your potential communication truly contains enough news – for instance, is what you are doing really that unusual?
  • When a rival company (or organisation) is already gaining media coverage for something similar in the same publications and outlets in which you would like to be included. Find another story – or adopt different PR or marketing tactics.
  • When what you propose to write is more of promotional value than pure news. Please see the first point above. A special offer or promotion isn’t necessarily newsworthy; journalists demand something that will make readers sit up and take notice and are under no obligation to include free content.

I’m writing a free PDF guide with more tips about the ‘dos and don’ts’ of creating news releases, include some advice on how to write great content for the media. Please email me at bennettwords@sky.com for some more free advice.

Treading a bold path with charity P.R.

In today’s clamour of messages and general information overload, it can be hard to get noticed.

It certainly can be a challenge for charities, as there seem to be more than ever competing for the public’s time, attention, and – if they are seeking donations – financial support. So, how then to stand out?

I would advocate taking a bold communications approach, using  some simple messages that truly resound with what your organisation is all about. Sounds easy, but with plenty of organisations competing for the media spotlight, you really need to avoid all jargon and look at your organisation from an outsider’s point of view.

If you can offer real life stories about people who have benefited from your organisation’s work, all the better, but do be mindful of the needs of those who are acting as ‘case studies’.

The media is always looking for emotive stories, and the reality is that messages need to be fairly hard-hitting and/or direct to attract coverage.

I’m about to start on another round of publicity for the Albinism Fellowship, a charity I support with my wife, who is also a trustee.

During the summer, I helped hone the message for the Albinism Fellowship’s main campaign week, Albinism Awareness Week, which became a plea for people to judge those living with albinism for who they are, rather than their physical appearance (which usually attracts the most initial comment, giving the striking eye and hair colour).

We even included some criticism of Hollywood’s usual stereotyping of people with albinism in it through casting (note how people with albinism often seem to be the default ‘bad guys?’ The Da Vinci Code is one blockbuster example, and more recently there was an ‘albino pirate’ in children’s film The Pirates – in an adventure with scientists).

The campaign week therefore became a little more hard-hitting than before, as a result secure coverage in the local media, along with articles around the same time in The Guardian weekend section and Scottish Daily Mail.

It all goes to show that being bold pays off. It’s not without its risks, but neither is crossing the road. Worth a try?

Think locally…act locally

Following the first Totally Locally networking event in West Bridgford this summer, I’m promoting my copy-writing and web content services to local businesses.

Below is the profile of my business which will shortly appear on the Totally Locally West Bridgford Facebook pages, but you can read it here first!

Naturally, I’m still very happy to take briefs from clients outside my local area, simply email me to discuss your needs.

So, here’s that locally focused profile:

Professional writer Andrew Bennett has always had a way with words – they come to him easily, whatever the subject matter!

Whether it’s writing about property lettings, artisan-made bread or even innovative fold away homes for chickens; rabbits or guinea pigs, his talents have brought these West Bridgford businesses to life.

Andrew, who has lived in West Bridgford for nearly a decade and is a member of the local Skills Exchange, aims to put passion behind his pen strokes and unearth the key messages for your business – making it stand out through creating lively web or social media content, or writing for print purposes.

As well as wordsmithing for local businesses, including for the Totally Locally website ‘Hidden Gems’ section, Andrew, proprietor of Bennett Words, has previously worked with UK and multinational sales and marketing organisations; writing for their customers, staff and those who take a close outside interest.

Meanwhile, working as a public relations consultant for several private, public and voluntary sector organisations has drawn on his writing ability to produce copy that makes the media take notice!

Andrew said: “I’m a Totally Locally fan and already work closely with local businesses including photographer Paul Carroll and web developer Simon Bramley, the latter to create bespoke digital content for clients. I’m looking forward to getting to know more businesses on my doorstep. There are some tremendous local firms providing great goods and services.”

 

Why diversity is desirable – re-writing the rural rules

Just back from an enjoyable week’s break with the family near the Yorkshire coast, which prompted a few thoughts on the way some small businesses seem to be going.

At least in that neck of the woods, small enterprises look to be branching out in a number of directions. Nothing particularly new in this, of course, but based on a number of visits to East Riding over the last few years, it seems to be an increasing trend.

One particular successful case in point is the holiday cottage where we stay. Run by a farming family, the rural way of life was in the family blood for many years until their venture into… the arts!

Capitalising on the head of the household’s passion for paintings with the establishment of his own art gallery on site, this facility has started offering art tuition classes during the last few years. The art gallery was followed by the conversion of farm buildings into a series of holiday cottages and on-site facilities to help guests relax.

In August, the biggest change we saw to this business, compared with our last visit in 2010, was the opening of a coffee shop that also does light snacks, housed within the existing art gallery. It’s really brought a bit of a buzz to the whole place when it’s busy, and certainly increased the footfall.

No doubt there are dozens more examples if you care to look for them, and they’ve helped rural businesses survive the savage downturn, as well as changing trends such as the decline of traditional farming and the different demands from today’s holiday-makers.

Much closer to home, there are a couple of interesting case studies – Signature Steakhouse in West Bridgford, Nottingham, boasts a boutique alongside the dining area (filet mignon with a blouse and shoes to go, madam?) and in the suburb of Lady Bay there’s a bed and breakfast combined with an art studio.

There are strong arguments too, for focusing on a single service or offering and sticking at that rather than becoming a ‘jack of many trades’, but it all depends on the circumstances and demand.

Words have always been at the centre of what I do for a living, although I apply them in a wide range of ways, so I guess you could say I’m both diverse and focused in my range of services.