I'm Not God; But Don't Let That Stop You From Worshipping Me
Every new project and/or client always brings forth new ideas ~ typically based on the challenges of those particular projects. I don't have any fear of admitting I don't know everything. If I had that attitude, when would I learn things? So I don't mind saying, "Hey, I've learned something I didn't know before." I'm only too happy to admit I am not ready for deity status. (Sainthood or honorary degrees, perhaps; but a goddess? Not yet.)
So, from the "I readily admit I do not know everything" pile, here is my current lesson:
PRNewswire's Feature Newsline Service is really just a Press Release Service.
I have no idea what they charge for a "Feature," but this is what they say it is:
PR Newswire's Feature Newsline and Feature News Service are for theme-related or human interest stories on consumer subjects such as food, personal finance, health and home.
- Feature News Service: Transmits groups of themed stories on pre-established date to media nationwide. Feature packages are accessible for 60 days on prnewswire.com and are actively pitched to the media.
- Daily Feature Newsline Service: Send your individual feature story to thousands of media outlets nationwide.
- Features with Photo/Video - Add a photo or video clip to your feature story.
- Consumer Features - Adds your choice of a customized consumer publications list or a gift guide list to your Feature Newsline distribution.
What's confusing here is that they refer to a Feature as "theme-related or human interest stories." In reality, they are standard, textbook, releases. Their guidelines and examples make it quite clear that a Feature is a release ~ just not a dated or timely one. (They reserve the term Press Release for those which are "breaking news" or otherwise time oriented.) You could say this distinction is factual, but PRNewswire's sales pitch on this service is not exactly what I would call clear. And apparently neither is the staff which handles such services.
To my excited client 'Feature' sounded like her story would be will be published ~ and as written, rather than a release or pitch where you are just hoping to stand out in a crowd. She felt "all but guaranteed publication," and was naming specific publications.
This of course is partly based on her desire-affected hearing, I'm sure. We all get excited at certain words and phrases. To a person with a product, "Feature Packages are stories grouped by theme and transmitted to feature desk editors at national daily and weekly publications and broadcast outlets. Editors rely on these stories to fill special sections and reports throughout the year" are very powerful words. My client was quick to sign up ~ much like "I love you" is quick to remove a girl's panties. However, since she knew she wasn't a writer or a media pro she knew she wasn't going to write this Feature. So she didn't read all the details.
She asked me to write a feature magazine article, set the word count, and told me the ideal publications for tone & style, and we settled on the fee. I had asked if this was a release or if I would receive a byline (for this affects my rate as well as the finished piece) and was told it was a feature with a byline. Only it wasn't. My client was too excited by what she thought she understood to communicate clearly. This resulted in problems.
I mention this tale of woe for a few reasons.
#1 If you seek a professional to write, please forward any and all materials to them at once. If you think this could be misunderstood as some sort of insult against their professionalism, include a note that you are forwarding all the information you have for the project and that you gather he/she may already be aware of this, but you feel more comfortable sending it along rather than risking that you yourself may have misunderstood something about it. (If she had done so, my client would have saved herself headache, heartache and some money.)
#2 If you seek such services from a distribution service you should be well aware of those two words: Distribution Service. They distribute. They do not publish, nor are they promising to get you published.
One can argue either side of PRNewswire's definitions ~ that a Feature Release is different than a Press Release because the Feature has a longer shelf-life. But it's rather irrelevant. PRNewswire has made their call and that's the deal. You just have to work with it.
And Features are Releases. No ifs, ands or buts.
You have to write a generic piece, in the standard press release format (with a small tweak here and there ~ mostly regarding the date formatting) and you are playing the same old game: Write something to stand out from all the others. Your Feature will end up in the same pile with all the other Features, and likely on the same desks as standard 'dated' releases. Don't let them fool you that a Feature has a better rate of use ~ that it's "all but guaranteed" to be published. If their percentages are better on Features it is only because with a larger fee comes a smaller pile for reporters and editors to sift through, hence their boredom factor is lower and they may get through them all.
One thing that really bothered me about this service is how they (apparently) stressed to my client that "Features are used as they are," as if this were untrue of standard press releases. I have long ago stopped counting the number of releases which are published as written (with a new date and byline), mainstream or adult. Most often, they stop at paragraph three, but they were exactly as written. I'll save my thoughts on lazy reporters and editors for another time ~ likely when I attack press releases in general. But the fact remains: Press Releases are, if magically selected, often used as written.
Personally, PRNewswire and the other mainstream distribution services have proven of little use for my work. By the time I edit them to be bland enough to pass their filters I am no longer talking about anything of any value to me. Even releases on basic human sexuality books & studies have to be so modified that they are virtually meaningless. So I don't bother. But should you be interested in these mainstream services, or have clients who do, you should be aware of all of this.
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