Public Relations Writing: Lesson #3 - p. 9

Feature Stories

Features are usually written by media writers -- reporters and freelancers employed by the media -- and not by PR writers, as I've already mentioned.

As important as features are, we usually get them by pitching stories, not by writing them ourselves. It's the editor's job to have an independent writer do independent journalism, and it's considered inappropriate for an editor to let a publicist write a feature article.

However, there are occasions when you'll do feature writing.

  • When you're writing for a newsletter or other internal medium, like an annual report, or company Web page. Here you are writing directly for readers, without working through the intermediary editor. You are the reporter and you need to write as a reporter would write.

  • When you have a relationship with an editor or reporter that encourages feature writing. Despite what I said above about "inappropriate," there have been times in my life when I wrote a press release which a reporter used with only slight changes, to make it "her own work." In such cases I would write it as if I were the reporter -- with a unique lead and unique quotes (which I would not use in any other release I mailed out). And then I labeled it with what amounts to a "guarantee" -- instead of "For Immediate Release," I wrote "Special to Suzy Smith." When Suzy Smith received the release she knew that she could use it essentially "as is" and she would not be embarrassed by reading the same story in another paper. Mind you, she might read a different story on the same subject, written by another reporter; but "her" version would be as unique as if she had taken my basic press release (not the feature release) and written the story herself. This situation is not likely to present itself, except with small, understaffed news media.

  • When you believe that by writing a feature release, you can "inspire" a reporter or editor to see its feature value, in a way that a regular release could not. Remember that "human interest" is one of the things that editors look for when considering whether a story is news. If your lead is good enough to keep them reading, and the feature story is so lively that no one could fail to be turned on by it, this may be a good way to go. For example, a lively feature on the clashing but complementary personalities of Laura Jennsen and Harold Stein might inspire an editor to assign a reporter and photographer to cover that story. Keep in mind, though, that every press release should have that effect -- a feature release isn't required -- and also that the reporter is going to have to decode your feature release, scraping off the feature "icing," so they can get down to the "cake" underneath -- the facts of the story. Usually better to write a compelling straightforward release without any icing.

  • When your boss asks you to. Your agency, or your corporate client, may believe that a lively feature story might get used as is by the major media, even though you know this isn't likely. Rather than drag your feet, you'll write the release and give it a try... who knows?

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