storytellingThe art of storytelling is celebrated today as one of the most effective ways to communicate. When I first started practicing public relations, the most effective news releases were the ones that told a story. They were called feature news releases. I’m not sure what happened to them, but over the years, that term has all but disappeared from the PR vernacular.

In fact, Google yields a paltry 5,700 search results for the term, which makes me very sad, as it once was the most effective way to get a reporter or editor’s attention. It was a great way to cut through the clutter of the boring, mundane and often useless and news-less releases that were being sent out – and stand out from the competition.

I once wrote a feature news release that was about Home Equity Lines of Credit, or HELOCs, for Great Western Bank. Three different magazines picked it up verbatim and a dozen newspapers quoted its content.

Recently, I convinced a hot startup we work with – zavvie out of Boulder, Colorado – to let me bring back the feature news release. I thought it could be the single most effective way to tell the story of how zavvie helps consumers. Reporters and editors, I argued, would be stuck on thinking of zavvie as solely a B2B product. Because when we launched zavvie in Colorado, we focused on how it was a digital farming tool that leveraged social media for real estate agents. Trying to break out of a reporter’s B2B mindset is extremely challenging, I told our clients. But a feature news release that could tell a powerful consumer story – from a consumer’s point-of-view, might at least help change the mindset and begin a new dialogue.

Authenticity is key

The key to a good feature news release is having a great story to tell. Fortunately for zavvie, they have some phenomenally talented agents, and one in particular, Chris Cote out of Castle Rock, who works for 8z Real Estate — owned by the same folks who created zavvie –was more than willing to help me out.

The key was to be able to tell the story from the consumers’ point of view, and Chris had the perfect couple with a terrific story to share. So I built the entire feature news release not around Chris the real estate agent, which is what most PR people would do, but around the sellers, Molly and Mike, and the experiences that illustrated the unique value offers in a Google and Zillow laden world.

The best part of the feature news release for me was being able to quote the couple so you can hear their real voices. Plus my client let me use this quote: “(agents) know the carpet needs to be changed in the guest bedroom because it smells like cat pee – the Internet can’t tell you that – a zavvie agent can.”  When is the last time you saw a real quote like that in a news release?

A door opener

The point of a feature news release is to start a conversation with a reporter, not generate verbatim coverage. But I will say that a well-written feature news release that tells a great story should be able to stand on its own. That’s how it will resonate in the mind of the person reading the story and in this case, how it can help convince an editor that the company is worth telling people about.

Will we be successful with this approach, trying something old as something new? Time will tell, but I did get one piece of immediate feedback that made my day. I sent it to a friend of mine who happens to be a reporter in Colorado and asked for an opinion. The email I got back said “I don’t think I quite understood the value of zavvie (before), and now I do…” And it passed the spouse test: I gave it to my wife to read and asked her if she could explain what zavvie did and why she might use it. She said yes, and did.

I’m hopeful that the feature news release will make a comeback as a great way to keep storytelling an active element in public relations.

If you want to read the zavvie feature news release, you can, here.