- Think of a feature release as a timeless story that could have been written by a journalist.
Unlike a traditional press release, a feature release is written with a human interest and lifestyle orientation that coincides with the "calendar of life." Feature releases are for journalists to use verbatim and often appear alongside holiday calendars and in special sections. They also fill news holes in newspapers and magazines. Feature stories are evergreen and typically have long shelf lives. One thing they are not is breaking, front-page news.
- Explore creative ways and angles to present your message.
Take an out-of-the-box look at what your business does and how it can lend itself to a consumer-directed message. Think of a holiday or seasonal theme (i.e., a nonprofit organization shedding light on how unique "gifts"—such as "providing supplies to a school in an economically challenged village"—given on behalf of those on your holiday gift lists do more good and mean more for recipients; or an animal shelter sharing "best practices" for deciding to give—or not give—a puppy or kitten as a holiday gift; or a mental health association offering up facts and advice on how to survive what can be for many a very difficult season). Make your message universal by adding statistics and providing useful information with mass appeal that can help people navigate their daily lives—in other words, give your story "legs."
- Use a captivating headline and attention-grabbing first paragraph.
The feature release headline and lead must immediately grab a reader's (and journalist's) attention (i.e., "What to do when a stingray bites your nipple"). Keep your headline to fewer than 20 words and your lead to no more than two to three sentences.
- Sum up detailed benefits in the second paragraph.
This is the place to give details that support your lead, but keep your message simple and informative. Cite a source—this is important for establishing credibility and giving editors someone to contact for information. Present key statistics. Give your readers a URL to a supportive Web site.
- Authenticate and enhance your message in the third paragraph.
Have your expert source or other engaging spokesperson who is knowledgeable on the subject provide an interesting quote or two that adds passion and opinion. This person also should be available for interviews.
- Elaborate on details in the fourth paragraph
Here is where you can elaborate on what you've already summarized. Use bullets—they help editors and readers quickly grasp your story and are easy to edit. This is also the place to add biographical information on your source, and maybe even add another quote.
- Write your release so it can easily be cut in length without losing its essence.
Make sure to keep your word count to 400. This is vital to getting your release published, since most newspapers and magazines have limited space for feature stories and news (the remainder is devoted to ad space).
- Take full advantage of multimedia and search engine optimization.
Bring your story to life, illustrate your content, and gain on-line 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 and on-line stories, video and audio clips are unbeatable for bringing content to life. Remember to add hyperlinks in your release that link to supportive documents and Web sites, and include SEO (search engine optimization) keywords when you submit your release for distribution so your story rises to the top of search engines.
- 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 product or service costs, if applicable. Because of this, you may 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 its use. An exception: If the subject of the release is a special offer (i.e., you are offering an opportunity for volunteers to serve underprivileged families during a weekend road trip at a cost of $250 per person). You may also place prices or price ranges in the last paragraph where editors have the option of cutting them.
- Write your feature release as a ready-to-print story—no boilerplate needed!
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 company background information.
Paolina Milana, Marketwire
© 2008, Marketwire
Paolina Milana is vice president of marketing for Marketwire, a leading newswire and communications work-flow provider. She brings nearly 20 years of experience as a former journalist and a seasoned PR and marketing professional with several years at a major nonprofit.