Editor’s note: The following piece is based upon an article published years ago by our then Features Editor, Fred Ferguson. We were saddened to hear news this week of Fred’s passing. A PR Newswire employee for more than 16 years, Fred left an indelible mark on the organization and instilled keen news sensibility in many of his colleagues. In today’s age of content marketing, his advice on fashioning effective news pieces is more relevant and timely than ever.
A computer programmer develops a program to keep Internet pornography from the PC his son uses.
A retired schoolteacher produces a set of cards to teach his own children math and vocabulary faster.
And a dance teacher confined to a chair because of a broken leg creates a videotape teaching chair dancing.
These are the personal, dramatic stories that once hid in routine news releases, according to Fred Ferguson, the former manager of PR Newswire’s Feature News Service who passed away on August 22, 2014.
His advice, which encouraged organizations to incorporate feature news writing into their press releases and publicity campaigns, is still instructive today, and not just for PR pros penning press releases. Marketers who want their content to resonate with audiences should pay heed to Ferguson’s words too.
“Organizations and companies who need publicity may get more exposure by doing a feature story rather than issuing a straight news releases,” said Ferguson, who was a longtime reporter, editor and executive with United Press International before joining PR Newswire. “Unless you’re announcing something or have breaking news, tell your story in a feature that won’t bury the heart of it.”
Ferguson’s tips for creating a compelling feature story focused rigorously on putting the audience for the story first, and the brand second.
- Hit editors with the story in the headline, which is all they see in selecting stories.
- Tell the same story in first paragraph, which should never be cute, soft, a quote or a question. These leads obstruct getting to the story. People, editors included, don’t read deep;
- Support the first paragraph with a second that backs it up and provides attribution. Bury the product and service name at the end of the second paragraph so it becomes less advertorial.
- Try to keep all paragraphs under 30 words and to three lines. This curbs fulmination, is easier for editors to cut to fit available space, holds the reader’s attention and is attractive in most page layouts;
- Do not excessively repeat the name of a product or service. Doing so is story desecration and the feature loses print and broadcast opportunities;
- Forget superlatives. Forget techno babble. Forget buzz words. Tell why consumers care instead;
- Never say anything is first or the best, express an opinion or make claims unless you directly attribute it to someone. Editors avoid anything not pinned to someone;
- Avoid the self-serving laundry list of products or services. A better way to introduce a product or service is to have a spokesperson discussing it as a trend or advising how to use it;
- Know that putting the corporate name in all capital letters violates style and will be rejected by many as advertorial and unsightly. Also beware trademark repetition.
- Do not use the corporate identity statement. Instead, use the information throughout the story so that it will be used. If you must use the boilerplate, put it in note to editor so it won’t interfere with text.
Storytelling is all the rage today in marketing circles. Fred knew the power of stories, and taught scores of communicators the ins and outs of storytelling.
Our thoughts are with Fred’s family and friends, and he has our everlasting thanks for his sharing of his knowledge and enthusiasm with his cohorts, cronies, colleagues and clients.