Forward features: how to maximise your media coverage opportunities
Forward features are a list of topics or themes that publications know well in advance they’re going to cover. They’re used both to structure editorial planning, but also to help sell advertising to the most relevant businesses.
Forward features are a key component for many of the vertical and horizontal titles tech companies are looking to appear in. This piece explores what it takes to make a success of them for your business.
Finding the opportunities
There are a couple of ways in which media provide a heads up on what they plan to cover.
Tools like Response Source have become indispensable for tech PR agencies to uncover short-term opportunities.
Journalists use the tool to make specific requests for contributions that are distributed to subscribers. They tend to come from the person writing the piece and typically ask for short written contributions and sometimes interviews. The time to respond can be as short as a couple of hours, or up to a month.
For longer lead opportunities, forward features calendars tend to hold the key to success in submitting contributions.
Issued annually by publications, they set out the stall for how they intend to structure editorial themes. Timings and topics might change based on news and current events, but it gives a solid indication of what they’re planning and when.
Unlike the short-term opportunities, the most likely way of contributing to forward features is through longer written responses. In some cases, it is possible to place a by-lined article under your company’s name.
And while tech titles rely less these days on forward features, vertical publications are much more engaged.
Why it makes sense to focus on forward features
Forward features are one of the elements of the PR mix that tend to rumble along in the background. They’re like a form of stealth coverage. They don’t have the thrill of a product announcement or newsjacking, but they’re key to building credibility over time.
A well-managed forward features programme is efficient and straightforward. It doesn’t guarantee your company will be covered every time, but it does increase your hit rate significantly.
A great forward features effort blends database tools like Gorkana/Cision and manual checks and conversations with your key target titles.
This can be tedious, but it’s time well spent though. From becoming an industry commentator to securing your own by-line, compelling contributions create other opportunities too.
We’re regularly approached by proactive media contacts with whom we’ve worked on features in the past, to get involved in other coverage generating activities. This kind of in-bound press query is exactly what tech companies should aspire to achieve, but it is not the norm for the majority of businesses.
The foundations of a great forward features approach
Beyond the tools you use, there are a couple of things you can do to maximise your chances of success with forward features:
Make sure you’re allowing enough time to be able to contribute.
If a publication releases an annual list of features, contact them two months before publication for more details. If you have a case study in mind, it’s perhaps worth sounding out the editor six months ahead of time. Case studies always increase your chances of coverage, but they can take time to both produce and appear in a publication.
Each publication will work to a different rhythm, so get up to speed with the ones that matter most to your business and adapt your approach accordingly.
Crucially, it’s important to understand that despite your best efforts, publications are not waiting for your specific contribution. If others present more compelling content or get there sooner, your opportunity might evaporate. And that’s even if you are working to the timescales the editors have previously given.
Some you’ll win, some you’ll miss out on.
This is critical. The forward features calendar of any publication doesn’t exist for you to sell your products and services through editorial. The readers of the publication are interested in its content because it is useful to them in some way, so make sure you give them value.
Take time to you read and answer the questions or brief properly. Focus on the audience and make sure that what you’re writing matters and makes sense to them.
You don’t have the flexibility you can get in an interview. You can’t pull the conversation around to your key talking points so get this balance right. Otherwise you will not make the final cut of the published
Forward features are an essential part of a company’s coverage arsenal. They might not be as exciting as jumping on hot topics or a breaking news story, but they are a key part of positioning clients as thought leaders and cementing their expertise in the media for the long-term.
To find out how we can help you get your share of the forward feature opportunities, contact us with your business story.