For communications professionals, feature stories can be our white whales – relentlessly pursued but just-out-of-reach. Often running longer than a page, a feature story is distinguished by the fact that the majority of the story will focus on your brand / client. Sounds great right? Of course, we all would love to see that type of spotlight shine on a client we love and believe in. Here are 5 tips to land – and manage – a feature story.
Map out your proposed narrative – and where it could go off the rails: Before drafting a pitch you need to figure out if you have a story to tell. What are the potential headlines? What supporting data / assets would be needed? Who are our spokespeople / what are their key talking points? What is the narrative and how does it align with brand positioning and messaging? I also recommend building out third rails and scenario-playing where the story could go awry (hopefully you never need to use this or reference it!) Hot tip: Sometimes it helps to play “tough reporter” and put together a list of hard questions and answers. The last thing you want with a big story is a surprise…
It can’t be all about you (or your brand): Though this may sound counter-intuitive, for a feature story to work and get greenlit, you need to be saying something about something. Gone are the days where a “unicorn-fundraise” would quickly dovetail into a business feature on the entrepreneur behind the brand. Today, a feature story needs to be pitched with a strong and compelling POV that ties back to a larger trend or moment in time. Think: how D2C retailers are reviving American manufacturing, how ‘Quiet Quitting’ can become a part of your dating journey (shameless plug for our awesome team on this one!) and how videogames can help with ADHD. These stories all shine a spotlight on great brands, but play into larger, cultural trends that matter and aren’t just self-serving.
Do your research: We all know how important it is to vet a reporter before pitching, but feature story pitching requires a more in-depth investigation into their coverage, writing style, tone, etc. Beyond just finding the most relevant reporter, you need to know 1) Do they write feature stories or is their content primarily news-driven? 2) What is their coverage style? Are they more even-keeled / fact-based when it comes to reporting? Or do they prefer a click-baity style? 3) Have they written negatively about a similar company, founder, etc? If you are pitching a feature story with a C-level executive, do you feel like the reporter and your C-level exec would connect? All of these things make a difference in the story framing and outcome.
Shape the story you want: So congrats your feature story pitch was accepted! Now what? Typically, you’ll start with interviews, sharing of collateral, materials, etc. Then the reporter will work through the angle / materials with an editor. You want to give the reporter space to work on the story, but you also want to make sure you aren’t caught off guard by the direction the story takes. It’s important to stay in touch with the reporter (but not bug them) and not push too much on story direction (they won’t tell you anyways). You can ask more open-ended questions to try to glean some insight, i.e, “are you planning on using X data point to show the growth of this,” “do you feel like you have the right information to explain the significance of Y?” Just know – no story today will be 100% positive and reporters are far more likely to take a fair and balanced approach than a glowing profile.
Be a person, not just a PR person: Working with a journalist on a feature story can be an intimate experience. From initial outreach to fact checks and follow-up interviews, a feature story can take months to come together. Though e-mail is the default option for many people these days, jumping on the phone with a reporter while working on a story (NOT for pitching!) can be beneficial. You get information in real-time and can create more of that back-and-forth relationship. They have invested in you, your client, and this story, so you should do the same – be patient, ask the right questions and do your own due diligence by anticipating their questions and having answers on hand. I always find it helpful to brush up on a little journalism 101 – you can speak their language and be less of a PR person and more of a collaborator.
Overall, a feature story can be hugely beneficial for a client – it gives them a spotlight in a very crowded media landscape, and a tool for their sales and business development teams.. As PR professionals, it is our job to package together a compelling story and work with a journalist to bring it to life. A feature story – when done right – is a great avenue to do this.