Chances are you’re already working hard to make sure that your marketing copy ‘speaks’ to your target audience and compels potential customers to want to learn more about your business.
You’re probably delivering carefully crafted messages across a wide range of channels, including your website and your social media feeds. But if media relations play a part in your content marketing mix, you will also have regular opportunities to reach potential clients through editorial opportunities in trade, local or national press. You could raise awareness of yourself and your cause through news stories, commentary on emerging issues, or bylined articles.
A feature article is a valuable opportunity to position yourself as an authority in your field. Like any editorial coverage, it delivers powerful third-party endorsement for your business because it’s not paid for – rather, it’s secured on the basis of the expertise you can bring to the table.
But, if writing feature articles is not something you do regularly, creating something that’s interesting, engaging and authoritative could be challenging.
Here are five pointers to help you write articles that meet the brief you’ve been commissioned on – all while positioning your business in the right way.
Context is key
Who are your readers, and what do they expect from the title you are writing for? Make sure you have a good feel for the regular content and tone of the publication you’ve been invited to contribute to. Depending on the industry you work in, it could be a trade magazine for your sector, a column or supplement in the national press which has a specific readership, or perhaps a website with a local or regional focus. Make sure you understand how your readers are defined, as this will help you pitch your piece in the terms most relevant for them.
Find the right angle
Whatever your subject matter, make sure you find a topical, timely angle to frame the information you plan to cover. To pique readers’ interest, your writing must quickly answer these two key questions:
Why is this information relevant to me?
Why is this information important right now?
For example, you might cite a high-profile breaking news story that’s relevant to the topic at hand, link back to freshly published research or statistics, or mention a major event that’s had an impact – it could be the Budget, the release of new legislation, or perhaps opinion or highlights from a major industry conference.
Check your style and tone
The piece has been commissioned because of the insight you can offer on a specific issue. With this in mind, the tone you deliver needs to be neutral and factual. If you stray into writing that’s overly promotional, your credibility will be undermined, and it may even mean the piece is not used. Your brand will benefit simply because the publication has chosen to publish your advice or views, so you don’t need to put on your best sales hat for this kind of project – your expertise should speak for itself.
Beyond the question of tone, when you’re working on editorial content, all the usual rules for good writing apply. Make sure you stick to a clear and logical structure, use short sentences and simple language. Your content should be broken up and well sign-posted with relevant subheadings.
Your commission might well mean you’re writing for a trade or technical journal, especially if you work in the B2B space. If that’s the case, your readership is likely to be well-informed in the subject matter you will be covering – but there will be some readers who don’t have the same depth of knowledge. It’s good practice to review what you’ve written and consider whether it would make sense to someone who is well-educated but not necessarily an expert in your field. Keep your writing accessible to all by avoiding unnecessary jargon and abbreviations, too.
Type ‘free readability checkers’ into Google, and you’ll find plenty of tools to help you assess how easy your text is to understand. Most will score what you’ve written according to the age of reader it’s suited to. Generally, you should pitch your writing so the average 13 to 15 year old could easily digest what you have to say (but always keep in the back of your mind that the average reading age in the UK is 9 years old – so the simpler your language, the better).
Make the most of the time you’ve invested in your feature article
Once your piece is published, you should, of course, share it on your social media channels. Beyond that, don’t forget you can capitalise on the work you’ve already done by re-purposing your advice and insight into other formats: your own blog or client newsletter, for example. And, if it’s an evergreen topic that will retain its relevance, you can continue to pitch variations on the same theme to other media outlets in the hope that they too will want the insights you can offer.
If you’re offered an opportunity with another title to write on the same theme, don’t simply duplicate what you have already done. You can illustrate your point with a fresh case study, or switch around the format by using a Q&A approach instead of straight narrative style, for example.
Another top tip from a PR insider…
Helen Curry has been at the helm of her specialist PR agency, Foundation, for over 20 years. She provides no-nonsense public relations services to the construction industry and has helped hundreds of clients achieve better exposure from a wide range of publications and digital outlets during her career.
Her advice? Speak to the editor before you even begin to put pen to paper.
“If you want to build a great relationship with your editor from day one, you need to consider their needs,” she says. “There’s nothing worse than seeing your hard work hacked to pieces by an editor who needs it to fit on a page, or having to scramble together some copy at the last minute – so it’s very important to establish the word count within the initial brief.
“You’ll also need to ask for the deadline – and make sure you stick to it. It may be much sooner than you imagine, especially if you’re contributing to a news piece or a monthly magazine. Get your feature article back to the editorial team well in advance of the cut-off point to make sure there’s enough time for final changes,” she adds.