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Feature Articles ... Extra Planning and Effort Expand Your Credibility

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

With competition becoming more aggressive, the necessity for promotion continues to rise. At the same time, promotional budgets seem to get tighter. Additionally, the cost of a sales call continues to rise, sometimes to over $250 per call.

Marketing has 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 place technical, applications, and user articles in 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 and your company get extensive third-party endorsement in the form of editorial coverage, that can't be achieved in any other manner.

Once the articles are published, you have some the the best sales literature available--called reprints.

We feel that it is one of the most valuable services we provide to our clients. We help them work with editors to introduce new products, support on-going operations, extend the use of their products, and reach specialized audiences with tailored messages.

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 certain task by using your product. In this way, you get valuable product exposure and endorsement.

The subjects for such feature articles can be found anywhere. A few years ago a number of firms capitalized on their products and services being used in the Olympics and during the elections. Annual sports events and promotions can also provide valuable feature article opportunities.

You Need Help

To develop such articles, work with your sales staff and marketing representatives. They should be constantly checking with customers to make certain that the customer is happy with the product, and also to locate customers who have achieved outstanding results or are using 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 slant the article should take.

Just the Facts

Getting the facts requires asking the right questions. If you're writing a user article--a news article where the user discusses his or her application of your product--make the user feel he or she is an important part of the story. Ask them about their job, how long have they been doing that particular task, and other work they have done in the past. Also ask: * About the company--its position in the industry, its size, the products it manufactures, and the industries it serves * Why they first needed your product/services * How they came about selecting your product/service over the competition * How they use the product * What they like about the product and what they feel are its most important features * Other comments, discussions, and examples they can provide regarding the products/services

After you've gathered all of the facts, consider what types of organizations, and what people within those organizations, will be interested in the material you have assembled. Once this is determined, study the various magazines in that industry to decide which ones best reach those individuals. This will help you tailor the article not only to the specific audience, but also to the specific publication or publications.

Before you begin creating your article, prepare an outline. This will aid you in establishing your priorities. It will also help you to 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 the reader's attention, just as the headline of your ads, the first portions of your sales literature, and the first part of your sales presentations do. It should stimulate the reader's interest and give an indication of how he or she will benefit if he or she reads 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 of the article, set it aside. After a few days, reread it as impartially as possible to make certain it isn't 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 that 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.

Key is Placement

Since you've established you audience at the outset, you should have no trouble placing you well-written, reader-oriented article. But don't expect miracles. The article won't appear in the next week or even the next month. Publications have editorial calendars and feature schedules, as well as a backlog of other articles that are just as good as yours. You can expect to wait 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 feature, or user article to a specific editor, it should be clearly understood that you are offering it to that editor and that editor alone. 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 or (worse yet) before his publication date. If that occurs, don't expect any cooperation or support from the editor for your company from then on.

Agency Advantage

A public relations agency will provide a decided advantage in the development of these articles for many reasons. One reason is that good writing is the first thing an editor will look for once he or she decides that the subject matter is of interest to the readers. He or she doesn't have the time nor the resources to write all of the articles published every week or month. If you've chosen the right agency, they will have the expertise and capabilities to work with your engineers, designers, and programmers to convey your message in a professional manner.

There is also the matter of objectivity. Objectivity is often difficult to attain within your organization because you are often too close to the subject. The second-party objectivity provided by an agency will usually result in a more meaningful article for the editor and the readers, and ultimately for you as well.

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's 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, and the myriad of other items that eat away at your day.

Not Free Advertising

Feature articles, no matter what their type, are a lot more than simply 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 very 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, very 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.

© Copyright 2000, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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