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By Steve Gosset

Many small businesses and entrepreneurs have found out the hard way that getting publicity nowadays is a lot easier said than done.

It’s not enough to be a marketplace innovator or to have a surefire product the public will latch onto. You may be doing everything right, but not enough people are noticing. What gives?

To stand apart from the crowd, you need to re-examine your media outreach, both in print and online.

The traditional press release still has its role, especially when you’re unveiling a new product or have a major announcement. The problem is, journalists are blitzed with emailed releases daily and don’t have the time or inclination to read all of them.

One way to get around that information overload is to complement your release with a feature news article. A feature can essentially be anything that’s not breaking news. It’s copy that is timeless or semi-timeless, so it can be used by the media when it is needed and is not reliant on when it is sent out.

Let’s say your company has just put a new garden tool on the market. You would first use a press release to announce the product’s release to both the media and trade to stoke the attention of retailers. But the release has a limited shelf life at best, perhaps one or two days. By then, journalists will have moved on to something else.

The feature is how you sustain interest in the product not just with the media but the public, who may find the feature online via a search engine and will be more inclined to read something written for them rather than just the media.

However, for the feature to succeed you need to take a different tack than a press release. The product cannot be the focus of the feature, which must emphasize information over promotion in order to generate interest. You achieve your promotion by being a good source of information. In doing so, you stand out from the deluge of run-of-the-mill press releases and have a better chance of getting published or generating an interview.

Indeed, the best features are written so a Web site, publication, or broadcaster could use them verbatim. Even if not picked up word-for-word, hype-free features can serve as springboards for staff-written pieces if journalists conclude you can help them with their work rather than just sell them a bill of goods.

Using the new garden tool as an example, let’s say you put out a feature filled with valuable tips and advice for green thumbs. Those tips could then be attributed to an expert from your company, which has the added benefit of alerting the media to a spokesman who could be made available for interviews.

You still get your promotion. It’s just more subtle than the typical press release. That’s OK. If it reads like an ad, journalists will quickly hit the delete button anyway. The silence on your end of the phone will be deafening.

This approach can be applied to virtually any type of media. While features are most commonly used to reach consumers, they can also be employed for a B2B audience. Many trade publications and technical journals are thinly staffed, and often welcome a solid feature to help fill space.

Some other feature-writing tips:

—Keep it short to accommodate verbatim use. Most media won’t have room for more than 400 words or so. Also, keep paragraphs concise, no more than a couple of sentences.

—Avoid superlatives, which are a major turn-off for journalists. On the off chance something really is “perfect,” “ideal” or “unique,” let the readers reach that conclusion without your prodding.

—Try not to link your copy to a specific occasion so it could be used at other times. Even if you’re pushing gifts for Christmas, that same item could also be given on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc.

—Plan ahead. If you are looking for publicity within a certain time frame, keep in mind newspaper feature editors often work up to three weeks in advance. Monthly magazines may be planned as much as six months ahead of time.

—Always consider sending a photo to help draw readers into the story and sell editors on the idea of using your feature. This is not an area where you want to pinch pennies.

For more information on writing a feature and other public relations tips visit PR Newswire’s PR Toolkit. PR Newswire’s Tips on Writing a Feature offers solid tips.

Steve Gosset is the Manager of Editorial Services for PR Newswire.
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