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Feature Me!

Small or large, all companies hunger for feature stories highlighting the positive elements of their businesses. Feature stories in newspapers or magazines make for great calling cards when trying to close a deal, hire employees, attract investors, and draw consumers, clients, or customers. Getting the story published, however, can be a gut-wrenching and lengthy affair. Getting the story to read how you want is even more difficult. Here are five tips for pitching a feature story and making it a public relations winner.

1. Think Local

Before pitching a national or regional publication, try your hand at local weeklies, smaller daily newspapers, or local magazines where staffers have more time to develop story ideas and keep closer ties to the community. Features in local newspapers and magazines can be especially helpful for companies looking to expand their workforce. Likewise, these stories can bring you to the attention of potential business partners.

A restaurant owner I spoke to recently was featured in a local Brooklyn newspaper. In the story, the restaurant owner talked about his plans to open a second location but bemoaned rising real estate prices. A local property owner read the article and contacted him about an opening in a recently refurbished building; he was looking for an established restaurant to serve as anchor for the street-level retail space. The restaurant’s second location, in that same building, is scheduled to open in December.

2. Go for the Trades

Most trade magazines are inherently positive in their coverage, making them the perfect public relations target for a feature pitch. Exposure in trade magazines helps drum up business and can lower costs by bringing your business to the attention of service providers in your industry.

A few years ago, the sales force of a web-hosting company contacted my company after a trade magazine ran a feature story about our work. Within a few months, we had switched hosting companies, saving us more than $250,000 in annual costs.

3. Pitch to Your Strength

The perfect feature is a fluffy one, but few journalists will fall for a pitch that is simply “local business makes good.” When you pitch, dig deep to find out what makes your company special, and what  readers of a specific publication would find informing or entertaining. For smaller companies, the people behind the business are often the story.

A recent feature article on my company in a local weekly focused on my bosses’ involvement in the community and how we’ve tapped local talent to fill the ranks. In the end, we got the “local business made good” story, but we pitched it as a piece about a local business opening a new door for the local business community and providing jobs outside of the community’s main employment focus.

4. Use a Feature as Internal PR

One of the beauties of a feature story is that it tends to be longer than your typical news story. This allows the writer time to explore the subject, and allows you ample opportunity to cover subjects that might otherwise be ignored. A feature story also gives you an opportunity to highlight people inside of your organization who have done good work and made a difference. Including the “little guys” in the story boosts morale and brings an organization closer.

I was not mentioned in the recent feature story about my company, but I was not upset by the snub. I know my worth to the organization. What excited me, however, was that the people inside my company who work just as hard, are just as smart, and have worked there just as long were recognized in print for their contributions to our success.

5. Lob Some Grenades

More often than not, publicity is topical, pegged to a newsworthy event. This narrows the range of subjects we can explore with reporters. Feature stories are like a canvas, giving a company space to paint within the lines defined by the journalist. A feature story is your company’s opportunity to talk up your products/services, explain why you’re better than the competition, tackle issues important to your business, and more. The focus is on you, so don’t be afraid to be a company with an opinion.

When I wrote feature stories on businesses, there was nothing worse than interviewing an executive with nothing exciting to say. If I was writing about a growing business, I wanted to know how it was going to take on the competition, and about its growth — i.e., I wanted to know how much revenue it was pulling in.

It’s important to remember that pitching any feature story is like trying to hit a baseball. In baseball, the best hitters are only successful 30 percent of the time; in public relations, the best pitch artists are probably only successful 10 percent of the time, or even less. Landing a feature story takes time and perseverance, but the public relations payoffs can be huge.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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