The Matte Effect: Creating, Writing, And Placing Your Own Story

A colleague of mine and I were recently brainstorming a new-business proposal when she brought up a PR tool I hadn’t used since my days at Burson-Marsteller in the 1980s: the matte story. Little did I know, use of the matte story is as popular as it ever was — maybe even more, given today’s focus on branded content.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a matte story is a pre-formatted feature article that print and online editors can use when they want or need additional content for their publications. Brands, companies, and marketers can draft a story for publication using their or their client’s own content in a pre-formatted template. For a fee (generally $1,000 to $7,000, depending on the scope of the project), a matte service such as NAPS, the North American Precis Syndicate, will write, edit, and format the article, then distribute it to thousands of newspapers and websites all over the country.

The result is a lot of mass media coverage. NAPS, for instance, distributes to more than 10,000 media outlets with expected results of 100 to 400 print and 500+ online placements. A lot of the coverage comes from weekly newspapers — but what’s wrong with that? Certainly if you’re trying to reach average consumers, there’s no better place to find them than in a weekly newspaper.



In the old days, NAPS would snail-mail the formatted stories on glossy paper to participating media outlets; editors would choose from among dozens of articles in a given mailing. Today, of course, everything is digital and the process is much simpler. NAPS can also provide customized CDs, camera-ready repro proofs, downloadable files — even radio and video feature releases, with an expected 300+ on-air placements for each radio feature and 100+ on-air placements for each video. They also have an RSS feed and a strong social media presence.

For advice on how best to utilize matte stories, I recently spoke with Dorothy York, CEO of New York-based NAPS.

Q: Who are some of your entertainment clients and what matte releases have you done for them? 

A: We have dozens of entertainment clients, including Disney, Dreamworks, Warner Bros., Blu-Ray, Electronic Arts, Netflix, Paramount and Yahoo, to name just a few. 

For Disney, we recently distributed a story on the discovery of a lost character from “The Jungle Book,” Rocky the Rhino, and how a new featurette on this character can inspire real-life rhino rescue efforts. 

For Dreamworks, we collaborated on a tech piece on the top five reasons to download digital movies, using “How To Train Your Dragon 2” as an example of the films that can be purchased in this cool new way. For Warner Bros., we released a tips piece on summer fun for families, including encouraging your kids to be creative “master builders,” inspired by “The LEGO Movie.” 

Q: What advice do you have for entertainment clients looking to use your service?

A: Keep the text snappy, between 200 and 1,000 words. (Also, the longer your piece, the higher the price to distribute it.) Include eye-catching color photos or infographics. And of course, make it newsworthy. Here are some ways to accomplish this:

  • Expert advice: Include information from a credible source such as a trade association, a university, a reputable expert or a government agency. A Paramount story used the Darren Aronofsky film “Noah” as the jumping-off place for advice on preparing for extreme weather events, with input from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
  • Celebrity: Give your story star appeal by including information about a celebrity as a role model for others. Needless to say, “Noah” star Russell Crowe was featured prominently in Paramount’s matte story.
  • Problem Solving: Demonstrate how your product or service can help readers solve a problem. A Comcast story spoke to parents concerned about their children backsliding academically over the summer. The piece provided plenty of links to fun (and, yes, educational) online resources from PBS Kids, National Geographic Kids, the National Gallery of Art, and more.
  • Anniversary: Provide a historical perspective for your product or service as it reaches a milestone and include fun facts, trivia and inspirational anecdotes. Blu-Ray marked its fifth anniversary with a piece describing the “theatrical” experience of watching “Avatar,” “Star Wars” or even “Thelma and Louise” on Blu-Ray technology at home—while pointing out that Blu-Rays now come bundled with a digital copy for watching on the go.
  • Tips and lists: Readers with shorter attention spans love lists that present info in easy-to-grab bites. Facebook offered “Five Ways to Share Better with Friends Online,” while Yahoo introduced its new Android and iOS app with “four tips to get you started.” 

Pitch letters, press releases, and phone calls still have their place, but nothing beats getting your own story in print exactly the way you want it.

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