The MAT release is a tried-and-true paid media tactic to build brand awareness and secure quality media placements without pitching a single editor. By getting your brand-sponsored article featured in print and/or digital newspapers, you can reach a new, massive audience. And newspaper editors get high-quality content to fill their editorial calendars.
The challenge is to create an article that appeals to both editors and consumers for a better chance of securing additional earned media placements.
After 20+ years of working with editors and helping clients with their MAT release campaigns, we’re sharing our top 10 proven tips for creating and distributing a successful MAT release.
These tips are backed by feedback we collected in our 2018-2019 Brandpoint Editor Survey that gauges the MAT release/sponsored content preferences of the editors in our industry-leading publisher network.
1. Know the difference between a press release and a MAT release
A press release is a pitch to publications to influence editors or journalists to give their brand coverage without compensation. There is no guarantee that a brand will get coverage. PR pros also have little control over what is said about their client’s brand because the article is typically written by a journalist from that publication.
The MAT release, on the other hand, is a paid tactic in which media coverage is guaranteed. The articles can be created directly by the brand or agency, allowing full control of the messaging (though, editors have the faculty to alter the article). Then, a MAT release partner such as Brandpoint will distribute the article to its network of publishers.
There is also an opportunity for a brand to receive earned coverage — editors who need to fill an empty space in their paper visit Brandpointcontent.com to look for timely and relevant articles to place. The ease of this process makes the MAT release an ideal way to reach a broader audience through a range of media outlets.
A 2018 report found that 53 percent of U.S. based journalists do not rely on press releases at all, and just 3 percent of journalists worldwide rely on press releases from a newswire. Considering the decline in value of the press release, the MAT release is a trusted solution to reach consumers of news media.
2. Don’t make it all about your brand
A successful MAT release is written like a news or magazine article rather than a sales pitch. The 2018-2019 Brandpoint Editor Survey shows that most editors reject sponsored content for publication if it’s too commercial or the marketing copy is too prominent. The next most common reason is that the content is not relatable or useful to their readers.
To create a MAT release that editors are more likely to place in their publications, focus on a trending topic in your industry or provide “how to” tips that offer readers new ideas on how to accomplish a goal or solve a problem in their everyday lives.
Your brand or product should only be a supporting character in the larger story. For example, if your company sells an organic home cleaning product, choose a general topic like “How to spring clean with fewer chemicals” or “5 reasons your cleaning products are harmful to your health.” Then, subtly mention the product as one way to clean with fewer chemicals or add a CTA to the end of the article to learn more by visiting your website.
Also, keep brand mentions to a minimum. In our survey, only 10 percent of editors said that three or more brand mentions are acceptable within a sponsored content article. The majority of editors want to see only 1-2 mentions.
If you’re having trouble organizing the information in your article, consider using a classic journalism tool: the inverted pyramid. State the most important information first, followed by the supporting details, and end with the least crucial points. This writing style is familiar to consumers of news media, so is a reliable way to structure a MAT release article. Read more tips on writing sponsored content like a journalist.
3. Choose relevant and timely topics to educate readers
When holidays, seasons, big events or other annual occurrences are approaching, it’s likely that editors will be on the lookout for content that relates to these timely themes. For example: “Winter storm power outages on the rise — 3 ways to prepare” or “Think spring: Now’s the time to plan the landscape of your dreams.”
How far in advance should you plan topics and distribution dates for your MAT release? Most of the editors who use Brandpointcontent.com and participated in our survey, said that they look for sponsored content 2-3 weeks before publication date.
To help you plan your MAT release content, we developed the Featured Category Calendar that lists timely, themed topics that editors look for at specific times of the year.
Our survey shows that the Home and Garden category is the most popular, desired by 64 percent of the editors in the survey. Editors also look for sponsored content in the following categories:
4. Be brief
Fifty-two percent of editors that Brandpoint partners with most often look for sponsored content because they need to fill out a special section. Print editors also place MAT releases to fill empty spaces in a column. These spaces are often small, so editors usually favor articles that don’t need much editing.
The same survey shows that 36 percent of editors prefer a word could between 400-600 words while 27 percent of editors prefer 600-800 words. The MAT release is distributed to hundreds of media outlets across the country, so not every single editor will be pleased when it comes to word count.
In this case, the best practice is to make sure every word in your article matters. Cut fluff and filler words. Consider recruiting a professional editor to review your articles and help tighten sentences, avoid passive voice and choose powerful, actionable words.
5. Make it easy to read
Use formatting tactics to maximize your word count limit. Using subheads, bullet points, numbers and bold copy can help you communicate information in a way that’s easy to read for consumers. Formatting your article will also help readers quickly identify the main points.
Unless your MAT release will be distributed to a targeted audience (Brandpoint offers regional, B2B, pharma and Spanish-speaking audience distribution), your article will be seen by a general consumer audience. So, use simple, natural language to appeal to more readers.
Or, if you want to attract readers of a certain demographic, use your buyer personas to create topics and use language that would engage that type of audience. Use this guide to develop buyer personas that will steer your overall content strategy.
6. Write a winning headline
Good MAT release headlines tell editors and consumers what they will learn from your article even before they read it. If editors can quickly identify the topic from the headline, they’re more likely to place your MAT release. Here are a few insider tips from our editors for making your headline great:
Don’t overpromise. The article needs to deliver on what the reader expects to get.
Make it irresistible. Use intentional techniques such as surprise, a question, a number, the words “how to,” or offbeat words that engage the reader’s curiosity.
Keep the headline concise, yet descriptive. The majority of editors Brandpoint works with prefer headlines that are fewer than 50 characters.
Here are top-performing headlines from some of our MAT release clients:
- The New Year’s resolution you can keep: A more eco-friendly home
- 4 DIY projects perfect for winter months
- A cup of tea can be the best solution for everyday wellness
- That ’70s home: 5 trends making a comeback today
- 10 tips for efficient, effective home appliances
7. Include visuals
Compelling visuals have the power to pull in consumers to read your article, so it’s worth taking the time to select the perfect one.
According to our survey, 56 percent of editors are willing to publish a sponsored article if it includes an image of a product and/or brand. The others prefer a lifestyle photo that features people, which is more relatable to consumers than a product image. Brandpoint offers professional photo sourcing services to help choose a compelling visual with the proper usage and copyrights.
If using a product image, feature it in a subtle way; place it in the background or show it in use so consumers have an easier time imagining themselves buying and using the product.
Here are some best practices for including a visual in your MAT release article:
- “Know and show” your intended audience in the images in realistic situations.
- Always pair your MAT release with at least one image.
- Take your time to search out the right image. It should evoke the appropriate mood.
8. Consider other formats
Traditional-style articles work well for MATs. That’s what editors and readers are used to. But it’s not your only option.
Would the story be told better through images such as a listicle?
Or does the message you want to convey include complex data or stats? An infographic may work better to illustrate the information so it’s easy to understand.
Videos are another format that give you more creative options to tell your story and connect with users through audio and movement. Users are also more likely to share videos with their social networks.
9. Write a killer Call-to-Action (CTA)
The MAT release can be more than a brand awareness tool with a strong call-to-action (CTA) that encourages readers to convert — whether that’s to learn more, get a special offer or buy a product by visiting your brand’s website.
Here are the secrets to creating a CTA that works in the context of a MAT release:
- Tell the reader exactly what to do: Do you want the reader to buy something? Call someone? Register or sign up for something? Share content or complete a survey?
- Be clear and concise: Use strong action verbs and get straight to the point.
- Avoid too many options: The task should be simple. An audience will lose interest if the call-to-action contains too many phrases or options.
- Highlight value: If you’re directing the reader toward more information or to join an email list/community, make it sound exciting and worth their time.
- Provide a reason: Answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Don’t just say, “Click here to …”
- Supply pain relief: Sell the ease of action and let readers know how their lives will improve.
10. Build trust by citing your sources
MAT releases read like the news so you should include supporting statistics and quotes to add credibility to your piece and to give it an objective, authoritative tone. Including such information also shows that you’ve done your research.
Find studies that support your arguments (it might be your brand’s study!) and include the names of those studies in your articles.
For an even stronger article that editors will be likely to place, reach out to respected experts on the topic to get their professional perspective. Including these quotes adds originality to your piece and provide a higher value to consumers.
Also consider interviewing colleagues in your organization and positioning them as thought leaders. This allows you to show off the expertise of your brand and allows potentially controversial material to be put forward in a graceful fashion.
Don’t underestimate the power of good writing and storytelling
Audiences are exposed to so much poor writing these days, that they react extremely positively to material that is well-written and well-edited. Brandpoint invests in experienced journalists and editors to create compelling and useful MAT releases to be distributed to Brandpoint’s industry-leading media network.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2017 and has been completely updated for relevancy and comprehensiveness.