Most media outlets will be more than receptive when presented with a well-put-together feature package. The trick is figuring out how to build one.
Every PR pro knows the media are doing more with less these days, as newsrooms get cut back and reporters increasingly find themselves juggling multiple beats. It's an environment that should make it easier to pitch story ideas, especially those where all the components are in place and most of the heavy lifting has already been done.
But pitching features without an obvious news hook can still be a challenge, no matter how much advance work is done for the journalist.
"The more work PR people can do for reporters in advance - including coming up with story ideas - the better," says Bob Brody, SVP/media specialist with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. "But any feature idea should have some nugget of hard news value, as well."
Faye Nikolaidis, manager of client services at CooperKatz, notes that the news hook need not only come from your client alone. It can be achieved just as effectively by having the right story partners.
While working with client Veet and its line of hair removal products for women, Nikolaidis says she found it difficult to generate media interest beyond health and beauty editors.
"Some people thought it was a bit of a taboo subject, so we could not just do a straight product pitch," she explains. "Instead, we combined Veet with other health and beauty products into a feature on spa salon treatments you can do at home that ended up playing really well, especially with TV and radio hosts who are focused on saving their audience time and money."
Brody says it also helps to tailor your feature to reach as broad an audience as possible.
"The more universally appealing the product and service, the better your chances of scoring attention," he says. "Medicines for a widespread problem such as pain - Advil, for example - will garner more interest than those for a narrower niche - say, Zyprexa for bipolar disorder. Likewise, you'll have an easier sell pitching sunglasses than Lasik surgery."
Even with that broad appeal, many media outlets may still be reluctant to pick up features that seem too prepackaged.
"We don't use a lot of SMTs or other pitched features because we prefer to generate our own ideas," says Lena Sadiwskyj, executive news producer with the Phoenix TV station KTVK. "And there are really only two reasons that we'd be interested. One, it has to be really relevant to our local audience. Two, it must have great pictures. The biggest mistake I see when people pitch us features is the lack of a compelling visual element."
When it comes to TV, it also helps to time your feature well. "You need to make sure you're avoiding TV sweeps months," says Nikolaidis. "An SMT simply cannot compete during sweeps."
Beyond that, Lesley Weiner, an SAE who works with Nikolaidis at CooperKatz, adds that luck also plays a part.
"You have to hope that your story is not scheduled to run during major breaking news, such as a hurricane," she says. "Those types of events just take over."
Don Tanner, partner with Detroit-based Marx Layne & Co., stresses that no matter how much advance work you've done on a feature, "it still comes down to making sure you're pitching the right media. You don't want to take content that's more tailored for a targeted vertical publication and try to position it with a general consumer outlet."
David Reiseman, associate director with Venice, CA-based Riester-Robb/Pacific, which represents Gold's Gym International, notes that the success of full-feature pitches also depends on the credibility of your client.
Reiseman explains that Riester-Robb had originally established a "think tank" of Gold's Gym experts simply because so many reporters were calling up looking for sources for fitness-related stories. "We then took it one step further and starting sending reporters a monthly tip sheet with not only hard news and interesting facts, but also fully written features on fitness topics ranging from how to get in shape for summer to how to lose the freshman 15," he adds.
Because of Gold's name recognition, Reiseman says, "a lot of smaller papers would just run the story in its entirety under the Gold's Gym byline. And even though the outlets weren't very big, they eventually can add up to reach a larger audience than you might get from a major placement in, say, Cosmopolitan."
Though not every story can be an evergreen, Reiseman also stresses the importance of designing features that can stay in a reporter's in-box for a while without getting stale.
"Many times, we'll get calls three months after we've sent something out from a reporter who tells us he or she has just come up for air and finally got a chance to look at it," he says.
But as important as these full features are, Reiseman says, getting them placed in their entirety should never be the sole goal.
"We designed a lot of stories to be compelling features with a lot of credible experts," he says. "But at the end of the day, it does not really matter to us whether they take the story as a whole or use it as the foundation for their own piece, as long as it helps generate interest in our client."
Do pitch the big picture. The broader the potential audience for your feature, the better your chance of success
Do generate your own news. A client-sponsored study can often be the hard news nugget that gets a reporter or editor interested in a fully formed feature
Do line up the right experts. It's often not a client's products, but rather its expert testimonials, that make for a compelling story
Don't go it alone. If a product has narrow appeal, look for complimentary products and partner up for a broader trend piece
Don't pitch everybody. The key to getting features placed is in the advance work and attempts to target the right outlets
Don't be on the clock. Features don't have to be timeless, but they must be flexible enough so they can still be used months after they were originally pitched