Contributed pieces allows your client to tell stories in his or her own words. This makes a contributed article a very powerful tool, but like everything in PR, there are a few things you need to consider to be successful when planning and pitching them.
When should I encourage my client to write a contributed piece?
- If you have a unique story to share or can offer a different perspective on a newsworthy topic or current event. But if you can find an existing article that’s basically the same as the one your client wants to write, then it’s not unique. Find a new angle or brainstorm a new idea.
- If you want to promote the article’s author as a thought leader.
- If your client is an expert on a certain topic. For example, one of my clients is a coding bootcamp. Since the company’s instructors are deeply involved in teaching and researching the latest in-demand programming languages, we had one instructor write an article that predicted programming trends for 2016. Prediction articles are a dime a dozen, but since this author had special expertise in the area, he was able to write an extremely detailed and insightful article that we placed in a major technology publication.
- Caveat: Contributed pieces take time to write and edit so your author will need to have enough time to commit to working on the project. Most people will underestimate the time it will take, so make sure to set realistic goals with your client at the beginning of the project.
What makes a strong article?
Something different! Say something that only the author can say – either due to their background or their unique perspective. One of my cybersecurity clients wrote an op-ed about presidential candidates misusing a donor’s personal data. It offered a unique perspective on an issue that was in the news and we placed the article in TechCrunch. Strong articles teach the reader something he or she didn’t already know. In technology pubs, this often means explaining how to solve a problem. Remember to keep your article vendor-neutral and non-promotional. Please don’t include any marketing copy! The benefit comes from having the author recognized as a thought leader in his or her field. Many publications have specific word limits for contributed pieces. Most are in the 500-800 word range, but be sure to check if you are targeting a specific publication. Even if the magazine does not publish editorial guidelines, it will usually have unspoken preferences. It always pays to send a quick email to the editor asking if there are guidelines that you should be aware of.
This article is great, how do I pitch it?
Contributed article pitches should be simple and to the point. Include a brief summary of the article, the author’s qualifications and any current events that make your article newsworthy or relevant. Offer to send the article for review if the editor is interested. Most top-tier pubs (the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc) have a set process for submitting op-eds, and you need to follow them. If not, they probably have a specific editor who handles contributed pieces. Pitch the general editor at small vertical pubs. These publications typically have a small staff and can be good targets for contributed pieces since they save the editors and writers a lot of time. And it goes without saying, but the bigger and more prestigious the publication the more difficult it will be to secure a contributed article placement. But if you work with your client throughout the process, make sure the article is strong and target the correct audience, you just might succeed. Go forth and bring back the New York Times!