While not as popular as they once were, forward features remain a staple of PR and media relations.
These resources, also referred to as 'editorial calendars' provides a glimpse into what publications plan to cover in the future – giving PR agencies and in-house teams time to plan, prepare and pitch contributions.
In this guide, we'll take you through the best practice of using these assets and offer some top tips on increasing your chances of gaining coverage with editorial contributions.
A Brief Introduction
Forward features can be invaluable – particularly in certain sectors – for gaining insight into the editorial agenda for key publications that you'd like your company or client to feature in.
However, it's worth noting that they're not written in stone and can be subject to change, especially in cases where industry or sector press reacts to a notable development within its sphere.
They're relatively easy to find – and you should be able to request them directly from the majority of publications. Or you can use resources, like this handy list of forward features we've put together for property companies.
Every publication is different though – so some might lay out their plans for the entire year, while others will only set out their agenda for the next three months.
1) Be Agile
Pitching editorial contributions to publications and specific journalists is a first-come, first-served sort of thing. Journalists are typically time-poor, so it's vital that you get a foot in the door with your pitch as soon as possible.
Offering insightful contributions is a must, but this will typically require some collaboration with clients or business partners that specialise in the topic. As these are usually front-line staff, pinning them down to derive their insights can be something of a problem.
To ensure you can get off the mark quickly, it's vital to have the process for extracting collaborations established in advance. There's no perfect way to go about this and you're likely to be constrained by the type of organisation you work for/represent. However, making sure you've got an effective point of contact in the areas of the business you're looking to promote is vital.
Even if your contributions are accepted, you can't let your foot off the pedal. If a journalist comes back with requests for clarification or elaboration, it's imperative that you're able to gather the necessary information and respond to this quickly.
It goes without saying that you shouldn't be late, but you should aim to be well ahead of the deadline with your contributions. This not only allows time for expansions or amendments, but will also position you as a reliable source in the journalists mind – increasing the chances that they'll seek you out if they need further contributions in the future.
2) Do Your Homework
Getting to know the publications you're pitching to is a must. Do they seek to push the boundaries or have they established themselves as the go-to source for a given topic or field?
Familiarising yourself with the tone and type of stories publications cover is paramount if you want your contributions to appeal to them. Some key information you'll want to collate in your profile of each publication includes:
- Key audiences
- Pace of publication (e.g. daily, weekly, monthly)
- Format of publication (e.g. online, supplement, mixed)
- Previous articles on the topic you're looking to pitch
- Do you have relevant hard news or opinion-based commentary to offer
- How similar features have run in previous years
Similarly, it can be a good idea to get to know the specific journalists you're likely to deal with. Even if the contact isn't named in the forward feature list, most publications will happily let you know who is working on it. So don't be afraid to get in touch, find out more about the piece (particularly for vague or especially wide topic areas) to ensure your contributions are as relevant as possible.
And if you do have hard news (like research for example), consider whether it's worth forsaking the stand-alone coverage for a better chance of securing your feature contribution. If it's good enough, journalists will love you for it.
Getting your concepts and contributions together for pitching can be a difficult and time-consuming task. And since you're likely to have a limited amount of time, it's important to get your priorities right.
First and foremost, make sure the publications you're targeting are those that will offer maximum value to your PR/media relation's campaign's goals. Ensure the article is likely to be read by the people you're seeking to influence and covers a topic that will speak to their needs, desires and challenges.
On the other hand, don't try and pitch for a topic you're only tangentially or tenuously related to in the hopes of getting into a target publication. Your contributions are likely to be knocked back in favour of something more relevant, with the only tangible result being wasted time and effort.
As we discovered in our interviews with members of the property press, journalists always operate under the shadow of a looming deadline. As such, it's necessary for them to quickly digest relevant information when putting together a piece.
To maximise your chances of appealing to them, be sure to format your pitch in the most user-friendly way possible. Since you'll be competing for their attention alongside the horde of daily press releases and PR requests they receive, you'll want to make your pitch accessible, digestible and memorable.
Some top tips include:
- Keep your pitch top-level, with a minimum of guff
- Bullet point the gist of your contribution and don't waffle
- Ensure you're adding value or insight to a topic rather than just reiterating or rehashing
- Don't be afraid to ring the journalist if you don't hear back from them, but don't do this 20 seconds after you send the email.
Given Peter Oborne's recent revelations, you might be wondering whether buttering up your target publications by buying advertising could be a valid strategy to grease the wheels of media relations.
Our advice – if you're thinking of going down this route it is unequivocally paramount that you have an intimate understanding of the media you're dealing with.
While it's true that some publications have a blurred line between advertising and editorial, some will have separate departments where never the two shall meet. If you're dealing with the latter, even making the very suggestion that some kind of commercial support might help increase the chances of coverage can make editors see red and could sour your relationship with a key publication for years to come.
6) Add Value
It's your job to make the journalist look good by sourcing valuable contributions, so ensure you're adding the maximum value possible.
Research the topic at hand and see what's being said and more important, what's not being said. Pitching an angle that isn't obvious or the journalist themselves might not have explored can be an extremely effective, if tricky, tactic.
Similarly, if you've got a high quality photograph, infographic or embeddable multi-media piece that could serve to illustrate something being discussed in the feature (or the ability to quickly whip one up) – be sure to offer this.
7) Go the Extra Mile
You've achieved coverage, great! But the work doesn't stop there. Make sure you make the most of your coverage both within the business and externally.
Highlighting successes internally within organisations is vital in underlining the importance of PR and ensuring other areas of the company will see the value of these contributions and hopefully, be keen to offer their own should the opportunity arise.
Similarly, as most publications are online nowadays – make sure you're promoting a link to the article in question on your company news site, and any social media presence you might maintain.
We wish you the best of luck in pitching your features, but if you've got any questions, comments or queries – be sure to leave us a comment below or shoot us a tweet – we always love to hear from you.
And if you work in the property sector and are keen to get the inside scoop on this year's forward features, we've gone ahead and compiled six months' worth in one handy guide. Download it for free below:
Images used courtesy of Andrys and Nemo on Pixabay.