Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Turn PR Releases into Original, Value-added Articles

Recently, I was approached by the Communications rep. from National Geographic Society with an offer to use original photos from the July issue if I were interested in talking about the upcoming article "Last Song for Migrating Birds." I read the article and found it quite interesting, but I generally don't like to do straight PR pieces unless I have something original to add above and beyond the article itself or material from a press release.

I told National Geographic that I'd be interested but I'd like to include an original interview. They offered David Guttenfelder who took the very compelling photos for the article. As it turns out, Guttenfelder is also the chief photographer for the Asian region for the Associated Press and has made a career of conflict photography, among other assignments, covering wars in Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.

I was curious how he might bring a unique photographic perspective to a story about birds and about his reaction to the avian casualties. An interview with that angle allowed me to add some quality original content to the discussion of the National Geographic article. It was also an angle that appealed to my editor at Y!CN who told me that it would be published at Yahoo! News ( http://news.yahoo.com ).

That generally translates into many more readers - a win for me and for National Geographic from a publicity viewpoint.

I ended up with three of Guttenfelder's images embedded in my article along with a video of him talking about his experience on this assignment, along with 2500 words of introduction and original interview material derived from a phone conversation.

Many freelance writers receive information from Public Relations representatives on a regular basis. If you simply summarize it and publish as a fluffy PR piece, you'll likely find that there are dozens of similar articles from other writers who received the same source material when you did. To make you article stand out and stand above the rest, always try to make the extra effort to add something original and of value to your readers. If the article is one of many, then it is a commodity and it doesn't matter which one the reader finds. If you add extra value then even readers who read one of the plain PR pieces will still enjoy and learn something by reading your article.

PR reps generally understand a writer's desire to stand out with original material and are often willing to help by providing direct access to original sources for interviews. It's their job to field and evaluate such requests so don't be shy about asking. It helps if you have a commitment for publication at a prominent site, but if the PR person didn't feel you were worth their time, they wouldn't have sent you the press release material in the first place.

If the end result turns out good, then you might have expanded access in the future. As a result of this particular endeavor, for example, National Geographic offered to send me contact information for interviews for articles from upcoming issues on a monthly basis. This doesn't commit me to writing anything, but allows me to pick and choose interviewees based on what I find interesting and newsworthy. As an additional benefit, I can add topic experts to my database of references should I ever have need of them again in the future. Access to a conflict photographer in Asia might be quite useful.

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