OTHER PUBLIC RELATIONS TOOLS

The news release is the most important form of written communications used by a public relations professional, but not the only one. There are many other public relations tools that should be used when appropriate.

News releases may suffice for most news stories, but other, lengthier forms of communication can give in-depth coverage of an interesting news item. Feature articles, bylined articles, and emails may be written to provide human interest appeal, to explore topics and issues in more depth, to raise your organization's profile in the local community, or for other reasons.

Feature Articles

Feature articles, which explore a subject at length, are not constrained by the tight deadlines of regular news articles. Features may be submitted at any time, depending on the editor's needs. Features often stem from a regular news item.

Imagine that the Linux operating system has been successfully implemented at a large organization in your community. This story is newsworthy, but begin to look for "the rest of the story." What difficulties did they experience in the transition, or what part did your organization play in their implementation? This could be the start of a feature article.

More research and creativity will go into a feature story, but must still be accurate. You will provide more facts, more statistics, more examples and anecdotes, and more analysis than in a news release. You can humanize and dramatize what may appear unexciting at first glance (a Linux implementation). You can openly focus on a particular angle or viewpoint, so long as you avoid outright advertising. Readers dislike advertorials masquerading as "articles," and no editor will accept an article that blatantly sells.

Another bonus is that editors are quite open to features, because they provide much needed content for filling an issue. When the feature is written by a reliable source and does not require payment (unlike a commissioned article), the article becomes a real asset.

All writing needs to engage the reader. The first sentence or two must be compelling enough for the editor to read on. Features require a strong lead—something to hook your target audience. A headline or a photograph may help.

For a feature, you have a wide repertoire of leads to choose from. Some leads are designed to startle and shock, some will excite readers' curiosity, some will vividly describe a real or imagined scenario, and some will succinctly state the nature of the story.

The body of the feature then unfolds in a logical sequence, and ends with a strong and memorable close. Every feature will be different, depending on the subject, the anticipated audience, and the skill of the writer. Reading features written by others in the community is a good way to learn and pick up possible story ideas.

You can direct a feature to the "feature editor" at a daily newspaper or your targeted trade magazines. Before going to the trouble of writing the article, you should pitch the idea to see if the publication has any interest at all. The pitch should include an outline, an estimated length (number of words), and a description of illustrations or photos you can supply. You could also include a selected portfolio of previously published articles about your organization.

The upfront consultation is invaluable. Since the editor knows their readership better than you do, they might suggest an angle of specific interest to their readers and indicate where this piece might fit in their publishing schedule. The more complete your package, the more seriously your work will be considered.

Another possibility is to plant the story idea with the editor, and let the publication take care of writing the feature. In this case, you can supply expertise and interview subjects.

Whatever your approach, keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to generate favorable coverage and visibility for your organization.

Bylined Articles

A byline is the line showing the author's name at the beginning of an article. Basically, a bylined article is attributed to a source rather than being anonymous.

Bylined articles can be any length, and they tend to based on opinion. They articulate views and opinions that are clearly the writer's own, without requiring objectivity.

Issues, trends, and predictions regarding events and open source are ideal subjects for bylined articles. Moreover, forward-looking pieces are of high interest. Editors are always looking for "the next thing" to tell their readers about.

Opinion articles are important to position your organization as the leader and trendsetter in your field. To be a guru is to be watched, quoted, respected, and followed. Editors like highlighting celebrated members of the community because they sell more issues.

Gauging the interest of the news media is very important. What's hot? What are they writing about? Check the topics listed in their editorial calendars. Try to match their interests to the activities of your organization in the community. Then start writing your opinion piece.

Typically, the author of a bylined article should be your organization's designated spokesperson and acknowledged authority for the media. That might be you or a senior official. Sometimes a public relations professional will ghost-write the piece for the spokesperson, whose name will appear on the article. When this occurs, the article must closely reflect the spokesperson's views and ideas. In other words, he or she "owns" the ideas expressed in the article, not the writer.

An added bonus of by-lined articles is that they can be adapted into speeches for possible speaking opportunities. Conversely, any speech can be written as a by-lined article.

Email Writing

Another effective way to communicate to a targeted audience is through an email campaign. The effectiveness of a good email should not be underestimated. Some fundraising experts, for example, can raise thousands of dollars with an effective email campaign. Exceptional letters have obtained contracts, sold properties, and landed jobs.

Emails can be targeted to a specific audience for much less than you would spend on a regular mail campaign. Every email is an opportunity to effectively communicate to your target audience. For example, your organization might want to target recent graduates of local computer training courses with opportunities in their area. You will need to obtain the names and email addresses of recent graduates from the institutions offering those programs. Cooperation with their institution can often be established if you provide something in return, such as a reciprocal link on your website, a mention in your newsletter, or even free advertising.

Hopefully, your email campaign will generate interest in your organization and your programs. Be mindful of potentially spamming your intended audience—this could have a negative impact.