MAT tips: How to avoid the hard-sell in your sponsored content

Nels Urtel February 17, 2017

After declaring a PR major in college, one of the first things I learned how to do was write a press release. My professor impressed upon the class that it was one of the most basic and fundamental tools a PR professional has at his or her disposal.

Now, several years later, I find myself working at Brandpoint and realizing that there’s a different kind of content equally important to folks in PR: the MAT release. It provides editors with feature-story content that requires little to no editing while giving consumers a valuable piece of content. And in this digital age where the line between editorial and advertisement is thinner than ever, the MAT release remains an absolute asset to PR pros.

Though press releases and MAT releases are similar in some ways, they’re quite different in others. To help you write a better MAT release, I’ve enlisted the help of one of our senior editors to provide some helpful tips for avoiding the hard sell in your MAT release and putting your content in a better place to get picked up.

Avoid first person like the plague

In copywriting 101, you learn that content should never be about you. But what happens when you write a MAT release in the first person? You make it all about you. A first-person MAT release will inevitably sound branded and you’ll have a hard time just getting picked up, let alone read. The best MAT releases read like newspaper articles in an objective, third-person voice. They focus on providing benefits to the consumer, not bragging about features.

From the editor: Two brand mentions. That’s all you get. The best MATs have branding so subtle, the reader wouldn’t even think about it as sponsored content. To ensure you don’t get too brandy, give yourself a limit of two mentions throughout the release.

Don’t rely on numbers

Don’t get me wrong. I love numbers. They’re great for supplementing benefits, helping establish credibility and really driving a point home. But no one (and I mean no one) is going to read your MAT release if it reads like an abbreviated industry report. Over-saturating your MAT release with stats and numbers is a pretty clear indication that you’re trying to sell something. A good way to keep yourself on track when it comes to stats is by asking yourself “How can the consumer use this information?” If the answer is, “they can’t,” then find a different way. If the answer is, “they can,” then connect the dots and explain how.

From the editor: Quote it up! Quotes are a tremendous way to establish the same credibility numbers do, but in a much more compelling and readable way. Include quotes from industry and thought leaders and you’ll appear less salesy and more trustworthy.

Tip your readers

MATs that offer tips ALWAYS do better than those that don’t. If your sponsored content is branded (which it likely is), make sure it gives your audience some usable, actionable information they can apply themselves or share with friends. Try taking the MAT topic and breaking it down into tips to give your readers real value. Instead of talking about reasons they should have an energy efficient home, give your readers four or five ways they can make their home more energy efficient. You’ll avoid the hard sell and probably be rewarded with significantly higher placements.

From the editor: If it’s NOT tip related, break up your MAT release with subheads. They create natural “chapters” within the article and make it more digestible for the reader.

Use your words carefully

One of the MAT release’s greatest strengths is its versatility. It can run in print. It can run online. It could run on some other crazy platform that hasn’t been developed yet probably. This versatility, however, puts some important limitations in front of most MAT writers. While online-only content has the freedom to run a little longer into the 1500- to 2000-word range, MAT releases can end up in print where editors only have so many column inches to work with. This means length is very important. When you’re writing a MAT release, try and keep it between 450-650 words and never go over 700. Editors are much more likely to pick up a release if they know they don’t have to whittle too much away.

From the editor: Use AP style. It’s a standard every newspaper editor will require and the less they have to edit, the more likely you’ll get a placement.

The future of the MAT

Some claim the MAT release has had its moment in the sun but we have reason to believe otherwise. Luckily, we at Brandpoint already have 20 years experience in this field and a whole team of writers and editors (Copy Editor Rachel Brougham, in particular) who are well versed in the ways of the MAT release and kind enough to share their expert tips with me. If you want to learn more, check out this free guide to Mastering the Modern MAT Release.

Nels Urtel February 17, 2017

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