Feature Articles: More than Free Advertising

With competition becoming more aggressive, the necessity for promotion and visiblility continues to rise. At the same time, promotional budgets seem to get tighter. Additionally, the cost of sales calls continues to rise, sometimes to more than $500 per call. Marketing personnel have to find ways to increase the visibility of the company and its products while maintaining the efficiency of their budgets.

A very effective way to add to your credibility, increase your visibility and maximize your budgets is to pitch technical, application and user articles to the press. Through these articles your products or services receive mention in a positive, credible manner, making prospects more receptive to your messages. As a result, you have a very cost-effective method of telling your story at considerable length. Your products, your services and your company receive extensive third-party endorsement in the form of editorial coverage, which can’t be achieved any other way.

Once the articles are published, you have some of the best sales literature available: reprints. When you develop these feature articles, you actually become an extension of the publication’s editorial staff. You tell a story about someone who was able to accomplish a task using your product. In this way you get valuable product or service exposure and an endorsement.

Get Help

To develop articles, work with your sales and marketing staff. They should be constantly checking with customers to make sure the customer is happy with the product, or locating customers who have achieved outstanding results or have used the product in a unique application.

When you want to develop a feature article, define the audience you want to reach, get all the facts from the customer and their liaison company, and decide what angle the article should take.

Just the Facts

Getting the facts requires asking the right questions. If you are writing a user article—a news article in which the user discusses his or her application of your product—make users feel they are an important part of the story. Ask them about their job, how long they have been doing that particular task and other work they have done. Ask about the company (its position in the industry, size and products), how they selected your product or service over the competition, how they use the product or service, and what they like about your company.

After you’ve gathered all of the facts, consider what types of people and organizations will be interested in your material. Once you have determined this, study the magazines in that market to decide which ones best reach those people. This will help you tailor the article not only to the specific audience, but also to the specific publication.

Before you begin, prepare an article outline. This will help you establish your priorities. It will also help you keep the central theme of the article in mind and make the transitions between thoughts smoother and easier to follow.

Solid Lead

A good lead to your article is essential. The lead has to grab readers’ attention, as do the headlines of your ads, the first portions of your sales literature and the first part of your sales presentations. It should stimulate readers’ interest and indicate how they will benefit if they read the entire article.

The beginning of the article should give some introduction to the concepts you are presenting, a background on the subject, and an explanation of the problem or situation. Next, explain how your product or service provided the solution to the problem. Finally, close the article with some projection as to what is going to happen in the future.

Once you’ve written your first draft, set it aside. After a few days, reread it as impartially as possible to make certain it is not a puff piece for your company, but really has a message and value for the readers. If it doesn’t, start over.

Once you have determined that it is good and informative, edit it for length and clarity. Once this is complete, circulate the article through your technical staff to make certain all of the facts are accurate. Finally, send it to the organization using the product that is being featured and obtain written approvals from the company to use the article.

Placement is Key

Because you’ve established your audience at the outset, you should have no trouble placing your well-written, reader-oriented article. But don’t expect miracles. The article won’t appear immediately. Publications have editorial calendars and feature schedules, as well as a backlog of other articles that are just as good as yours. Sometimes, it takes three to six months before your article appears.The editor may hold the article for a special issue of the magazine that highlights that specific subject area. That means your product or service will get even greater coverage and readership.

Just as you compete against other organizations in your field, publications compete against each other in their markets. When you offer your technical, application, product or user articles to a specific editor, it should be clearly understood that you are offering it to that editor only. An editor does not want to go to a lot of trouble giving you extensive editorial space only to see the article appear at the same time in another venue. If that occurs, do not expect any cooperation or support from the editor for your company from that point.

Agency Advantage

A public relations agency will provide a decided advantage in the development of these articles. One reason is that good writing is the first thing an editor will look for once they decide that the subject matter is of interest to the readers. Most publications don’t have the time to write all of the articles published every month. If you choose the right agency, its staff will have the expertise and capabilities to work with your technical experts and engineers to convey your message in a professional manner.

There is also the matter of objectivity. Objectivity is often difficult to find within your company because you are too close to the subject. The second-party objectivity provided by an agency usually produces a more meaningful article for the editor and the readers, and ultimately for you.

Next is the matter of experience. Your agency works with a variety of different types of clients and publications all of the time. They know how and where the article will have the greatest acceptance and impact.

Finally, there is the matter of efficiency. The agency can concentrate on one thing—getting your articles developed and placed. They don’t have to worry about product development problems, customer problems, shipping problems, order problems, etc.

Good Articles Produce Results

Feature articles, no matter what their type, do more than simple product publicity or “free advertising.” By providing editors with good material for their readers, the editors learn more about your company and its position in the industry. You also present your organization and products in a positive manner.

With a little bit of extra effort, you are going to be able to educate and inform your prospective customers in a strong, believable manner. You’ll be providing them with concepts and facts that will help them improve their business and their competitive position. Everyone wins with your feature articles. You get valuable exposure, publications provide an educational and informational service to their readers, and the marketplace receives information they can use in their day-to-day operations.

G.A. “Andy” Marken is president of Marken Communications, Inc., Santa Clara, Calif. He can be reached by e-mail at andy@markencom.com.

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