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Writing Feature Articles
The following is excerpted from the Level Two Course, Working With The Press, which can be found at The FireStar Institute.
NOTE: In this course, we are not referring to professional writers who write feature articles for a living and often accept assignments from publications. We are referring to how feature articles can be used in the promotion of your small business.
Most of what’s on the front pages of a newspaper is information that needs to be reported right away, or it will be dated and loose its relevance. This is not true with a feature story. A feature can have an indefinite shelf life, so that it can be used when needed by the media.
Feature articles are not just dry facts, they provide stories and information from a unique angle. They are about how we live, love, and learn. Items on food, travel, pets, health, and home improvement are the type of subjects that lend themselves well to feature stories.
However, features can also be used by small business-to-business messages or when a consumer focus is not applicable. Many trade and technical magazines look for features that tell a compelling story and do not read like an advertisement. In fact, a feature needs to emphasize information over outright promotion. “Teaching Sells” and you achieve your promotion by being a good source of information.
The basic principles are the same whether you are writing a news release as a feature article. You want to pull the reader in at the top and flesh out the details in the rest of the article. You want to make the feature useable verbatim if cut after the second paragraph. You need to write in laymen’s language and avoid superlatives, jargon and excessive mentions of a brand name. Throw the rest of the press release structure away and use these ten tips for writing a good feature press release:
- Think of a feature press release as a timeless story written by a journalist. Unlike a traditional press release, a feature release is written with a human interest and lifestyle orientation that reference what is going on in life around us. They are for journalist to use verbatim and often appear alongside holiday calendars or in special sections. They are also used to fill news holes in newspapers and magazines
- Explore creative ways and angles to present your message. You need to look at your business from a different angle and how it can lend itself to a consumer-directed message. For instance, think of a holiday or seasonal theme (a health services business provides tips on picking safe Halloween costumes, or a printer manufacturer offers ways to make personalized gift cards). Make your message universal by adding statistics and providing useful information with mass appeal that can help people in their daily lives.
- Use a captivating headline and attention-grabbing first paragraph. Like the news release, the feature release headline must immediately grab a reader’s or journalist’s attention. You should keep your headline to less than 20 words and your lead paragraph to no more than two to three sentences. (The lead paragraph here is the equivalent of the summery section in the news release. No Dateline is used.)
- Sum up the detailed benefits in the second paragraph. This is where you give the details that support your lead, but keep your message simple and informative. Citing a source is important for establishing credibility and giving editors someone to contact for information Present key statistics and give your readers a URL to a supportive web site.
- Authenticate and enhance your message in the third paragraph. Have your expert source and/or other spokesperson that is knowledgeable on the subject provide an interesting quote or two that adds passion and opinion. This person should also be available for interviews.
- Elaborate on details in the fourth paragraph. This is where you can elaborate on what you have already summarized. Use bullets (sparingly) to help editors and readers quickly grasp your story and are easy to edit. This is also the place where you add biographical information on your source, and maybe even add another quote.
- Make sure you write your release so that it can be cut in length without losing its essence. You should keep your word count to 400. This is vital to get your release published, because most newspapers and magazines have limited space for feature stories and news. (They have to leave room of the advertising.)
- Take full advantage of multimedia and search engine optimization. This helps bring your story to life, illustrate your content and gain online visibility. Be sure to add photos with captions because they are favorites with journalists. Not only do they draw attention, but they can easily be dropped into news holes. For broadcast or online stories, video and audio clips are great for bringing stories to life. Be sure to add hyperlinks to your release that link to your supportive documentation and web sites. Also, include SEO keywords when you submit your release for online distribution so your story rises to the top of search engines. Some online distribution services also provide social network tags for Technorati, Digg, Newsvine and De.licio.us so readers can share your feature stories.
- Place prices and phone numbers in parentheses at the ends of paragraphs. Editors and consumers want to know how to contact you and how much your service or product costs, if applicable. Therefore, it is allowable to include phone numbers and pricing in parentheses at the ends of paragraphs. That way, editors can easily eliminate that information if they feel it detracts from the story or limits it use. An exception: If the subject of the release is a special promotional offer, you may also place prices or price ranges in the last paragraph where editors have the option of cutting them.
- Write you feature release as a ready-to-print story. Feature releases are not the place for corporate boilerplates and identity statements. Feature editors generally don’t read them and hardly ever use them, because feature stories are not about business events or forward-looking content that requires disclaimers or corporate background information.
As always, the best way to get a feel is to pick up a paper’s general interest section and see what others have written. You will find both good and bad articles, but by now you should be able to point out the difference.
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