Finding Forward Features
So you want to know what the media are going to be writing about to try and gain inclusion for your client. Where do you look for information about features that are going to be written? This is a short, and by no means exhaustive guide based on my own experience.
News v. Features
There are strong distinctions between features and news pieces, something that merits a good hard look before considering approaching a feature writer with information for a story.
News does what it says on the can. It’s topical. It’s in the moment. A feature can be news based – a behind the scenes look at personalities or how things came about – but is always more in depth, designed to give the reader an insight.
From the perspective of placing stories, features are a dream, and many are planned in advance. So how do you get to hear about them?
Rules of the road
Before going anywhere near how to find out about what features are coming up, it would be irresponsible of me not to note a few basic ‘rules of engagement to avoid disappointment and frustration on all sides.
I can expand on these at a later date if anyone’s interested, but summarised, they are:
- Learn how to pitch a story. Know the publication you’re pitching to, who their audience is, what will interest them, and how to approach them.
- Respect the journalist’s role and independence – the term ‘earned media’ means that you have to earn your space.
- The journalist doesn’t always have final say on what’s published. Things get sub edited and spiked. Get over it.
- Deadlines are deadlines. Time it right.
- The journalist isn’t there to do your SEO/PR. Earn your link. Suggest but don’t demand.
Planned features from the publication
Different publications have different policies regarding features. Some will plan their editorial calendar ahead of time, particularly trade media, often with a view to selling advertising against the subject matter, or because the publication has strong affiliations with trade or national events at which it distributes extra copies if it still runs print versions.
There are nice examples here:
You may find these called special reports, advertising focus, spotlights… but have a look on the websites of the publications. Because the information is there for commercial reasons rather than to help the reader, you are more likely to strike lucky on the bottom bar of the website, often under information for advertisers. Or on the editorial panel, where some publications still list a features editor.
Some publications have stopped publishing lists for competitive reasons, but cozying up to the ad department can help – and they’ll also be able to clarify any policies regarding advertorial.
You’ll need to do the groundwork to find out what features a publication runs regularly. And it’s really not hard – regular slots often have their own ‘channel’ within a media site. The Daily Telegraph, for example, regularly runs reviews of mobile apps. The Daily Mail runs regular themes within its money sections.
To really make any progress with this, traditional linkbuilding SEOs will have to step away from the ranking value of a site (any old link is good enough) and start looking at the relevance of the site, it’s audience and how the client’s products and services fit in.
Which takes me nicely to our next features discovery mechanism…
Journalists requests for help with features
You know what your client’s subject areas are. You should be able to identify which publications and websites cover these topics. (Still lost? Ask Google!)
Chances are that a couple of journalist/blogger names will come up repeatedly across those sites. If they’re in-house, you know where to find them. Otherwise freelance journalists and bloggers often have a specific ‘beat’ or two of topics that they cover.
Having identified a couple of key relevant writers, stalk them – nicely! Not every journalist will tell you what they’re writing or looking at, but social media has made it really easy to hang out and be helpful.
Once you know them, some offer a mail out list to PR people that give details of what they’re writing and looking for information on.
Where do they hang out online? For example UK Press has a lot of freelancers hanging out. It tends to be quite generic, but you’ll get the odd request snippet and they are generally a friendly crowd. More focussed places exist in each field. For example UKTJPR is a deliberate forum bringing together PRs and journalists in the technology field. Many have Twitter accounts. (Exercise caution with Facebook – it’s personal preference territory.) In these spaces they may proactively request help. You can, at least, start a conversation – once you’ve judged that this is appropriate, of course.
Formalised features services
There are numerous paid features services which will tell you what’s coming up. These come with a couple of provisos. Many publications set their features schedule up once or twice a year. A couple of months in they may change the schedules around. The features services can be slow to pick this up, and often ignore regular features.
Most of the media databases now have a ‘forward features’ function. They are variable in quality, and how useful they are often depends on the sector you’re working in.
A couple of the best known include:
HARO (Help a reporter out) used to be a really useful source on Twitter, but it was bought out by Vocus, meaning you now pay for that information, and leaving the #HARO hashtag to the spammers. (There are other hashtags that journalists regularly use, and for fear of them going the same way I’m not prepared to publish them here. However, if you follow your favourite journalist, you’ll soon work out how they’re letting people know what they need.)
FeaturesExec offers a nice mix of scheduled features and ‘in the moment’ media requests. It’s usefulness varies from sector to sector, but it offers a free trial.
EdCals is a free service from Cision.
There are different places to look according to the sectors you work in. I can’t know every service in every sector. I hope others will add what services have worked for them, in what sector, in the comments boxes below.