How to Avoid the Hard-Sell in Your Sponsored Content
One of the first things you probably learned as a PR major in college was the fundamentals of a press release. It’s a core component of public relations to release important news and earn potential media coverage after it hits the newswire. However, as more content is published to the web and more pitches are sent to news editors inboxes, it’s become harder to capture the attention of the consumers and the media.
Forms of native advertising and sponsored content have become a reliable solution to cut through the noise and get your content seen, generate brand awareness and drive people to your brand’s website.
Sponsored content and the MAT release
While sponsored content is a paid media tactic, it’s an essential component to achieve an integrated PESO media approach to complement earned media coverage.
In particular, the MAT release is a sponsored content tactic that PR pros turn to for guaranteed media placements. The MAT release also provides newspaper editors with additional content that requires little-to-no editing while giving consumers a useful piece of content.
Though the MAT is perceived as an outdated tactic, its use has risen in recent years as PR pros and marketers are looking for more ways to reach a massive audience in print and digital media outlets without researching, crafting and sending countless media pitches.
When sponsored content goes wrong
According to a study by Edelman, brands receive a 33 percent boost in credibility when their content is placed on well-respected sites. In many cases, sponsored content performs as well or even better than original non-sponsored editorial. However, to achieve engagement from readers, the content cannot be brand-centric, which is where sponsored content most often goes wrong.
With the advice of Brandpoint’s senior editors, here are four tips to help you avoid the hard sell in your sponsored content and MAT release articles to create engaging and useful content for readers.
NOTE: While sponsored content should not read like an ad, it’s crucial to distinguish between paid and editorial content by clearly labeling when your content is sponsored. Read the FTC’s Native Advertising guidelines here.
1. Avoid first person like the plague
MAT release articles will include brand mentions and relate to your brand’s industry, but it should never be all about you.
A first-person MAT release will inevitably sound branded, which is likely to deter consumers from reading and deter editors from placing your article. 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: 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.
2. Don’t rely on numbers
Don’t get me wrong. I love numbers. They’re great for describing benefits, helping establish credibility and really driving a point home. But no one will want to read your article 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.
A great way to communicate complex data and information is by putting it in a visual format such as an infographic, which Brandpoint distributes through its digital media network.
From the editor: Quote it up! Quotes can establish the same credibility that numbers do, especially when they come from experts in your organization or industry.
3. Tip your readers
MATs that offer tips always do better than those that don’t. Give your audience usable, actionable tips and information they can apply to their lives or share with friends.
For example, instead of talking about reasons a family 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: Label your list of tips with numbers to help readers easily identify the main points. If your article isn’t tip related, break up your MAT release with subheads. They create natural “chapters” within the article and make it more digestible for the reader.
4. Watch the word count
One of the MAT release’s greatest strengths is its versatility. It can run in print. It can run online. And it can run as multiple digital formats.
However, this versatility also presents challenges for content creators. While online-only content gives you the freedom to write posts into the 2,000-word range, MAT releases can end up in print where editors only have so many column inches to work with.
This means that length is very important. In the most recent Brandpoint Editor Survey, the majority of editors we partner with revealed that they prefer a MAT release to be between 400-600 words.
Editors are much more likely to pick up a release if they know they don’t have to spend time whittling too much away.
From the editor: Use AP style and best journalism practices to write tight, concise copy and appeal to editors. AP Style is a standard that every newspaper editor will require and the less they have to edit, the more likely you’ll get a placement.
The unique nature of the MAT
The MAT release is one of the original sponsored content formats to get guaranteed placements and metrics that PR pros can count on. Some sponsored content opportunities live with a single publisher, but MAT release articles are distributed to hundreds of newspapers throughout the country with site audience metrics in the millions. As long as you avoid the hard sell in your content, a MAT release can be a positive solution to generate more media attention for your brand.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in February 2017 and has been edited for comprehensiveness.