With fewer journalists employed following 2020’s blows, the news cycle has become less accessible for brands looking to be covered. This roadblock has pushed some businesses to shift their focus to guest article submissions to meet coverage goals. But the implications of last year have touched every corner of the larger media landscape, including contributed content.
Across publications, contributed content gatekeepers are being pulled away to cover new beats, causing backlogs in guest submission pipelines. Out-of-work reporters are vying for contributor roles. And many publications are switching to pay-to-play formats to streamline submissions and generate extra revenue. In short, getting a guest piece published is trickier than ever.
Despite these setbacks, contributed content shouldn’t be cut from your thought leadership strategy. It’s still an effective way to help journalists fill gaps in their editorial calendars and tell your brand’s story in an authentic way.
But getting published in today’s environment will require some new creativity and strategic thinking. Consider these four tips to ensure your content gets published and receives the attention it deserves.
Be Mindful of Your Target
Every publication has its own guidelines for vetting contributed articles. Tailoring your pitch and article to them can significantly up your chances of getting your content placed. But this is just one piece of the puzzle. You also want to consider each publication’s specific audience and focus. Before pitching or drafting a contributed piece, conduct an analysis of the outlets where you’re aiming to get published. Make sure you have a solid grasp of what the publication covers, who they speak to, and why your perspective would be beneficial for its audience.
Once you’ve done this, consider the following approaches to make your pitch stand out:
- Pitch an abstract. What will the contributed article discuss? Develop a short synopsis, including a clear takeaway for the reader, and send it for consideration.
- Pitch a thought leader. If someone on your executive team can speak to a variety of topics, pitch them as a subject matter expert whom you can regularly tap for a range of articles. Pro tip: Ongoing content partnerships can be time consuming. Ensure your executive has the necessary bandwidth before you offer them as a thought leader.
- Pitch a series. No, we’re not talking Netflix. Pitching a series of contributed articles can be beneficial for both gatekeepers and thought leaders. It allows you to plan ahead, coordinate timelines and deliverables with more ease, and ensure a consistent cadence of coverage. For thought leaders, series come with the added benefit of building a following around a specific topic or trend.
- Pitch a pre-drafted article. Some publications require a fully drafted article for consideration. While you can submit existing content (e.g., a piece that was intended for your blog or another channel), it may be subject to edits and rewrites to meet specific editorial guidelines. Your best bet? Draft a piece based on the outlet’s editorial requirements first. However, since placement isn’t guaranteed, be sure to have a contingency plan for where and how you can utilize the content if it isn’t accepted.
Be Bold and Move Fast
Today’s shorter news cycles and increased competition for contributed article placements mean the bar for originality and timeliness is even higher. So when it comes to pitching and executing contributed content, remember this: Be bold and move fast. That is to say, determine your position on key industry topics. Make sure your commentary is compelling, and be ready to share it quickly and loudly when the opportunity presents itself.
Once you’ve decided on the topics you want your brand and spokespeople to lean into, it’s time for some homework:
- Conduct research on what’s already being discussed in the media – and by your competitors – and identify how you can add value. Can you build on an existing narrative? Deliver a contrarian opinion? Fill in any gaps in research?
- Look at target pubs’ editorial calendars to understand their upcoming areas of focus and think about where your opinion might fit. Also, keep a pulse on what your target publication is posting on their social channels. Social media is a fantastic indicator of which story angles outlets view as most newsworthy.
- Take advantage of the unique viewpoints, experiences, and expertise of your spokespeople. Talk to your product managers and business development teams to see if there are any market trends where they can be subject matter experts.
Bottom line: What’s trending today is old news tomorrow. Be sure you have both an opinion when and where it matters, and a process for getting your content in a publication’s hands — fast. Remember, your commentary doesn’t always need to be provocative (though that doesn’t hurt). But it does need to be new and relevant.
Be a Genuine Resource
News burnout is real. Readers today are facing an unmanageable amount of content pollution. Not surprisingly, they are hungry for credible and reliable answers to questions they care about.
As reader needs shift, “Be helpful, not promotional” is a mantra that has served us well. People are no longer as interested in hearing about how your company is creating “the next big thing.” Readers want to understand the relevancy of “that thing.” Meaning how it’s tied to the larger narratives they see in the news and how it will impact their day-to-day lives and the rest of the world.
It’s important to note that being a genuine resource will benefit you when engaging with journalists (i.e., ensuring your content is placed) and with your brand’s specific audiences (i.e., ensuring your content is read).
For example, consider the following two headlines:
- “How Our Brand is Revolutionizing the Future of Work”
- “3 Ways COVID-19 Has Affected the Future of Work — And How Your Organization Can Adapt”
The first draws attention to the brand, its accomplishments in “revolutionizing work” (an ambiguous statement, really), and doesn’t offer any insight into what the piece will discuss. Conversely, the second headline adds urgency to the topic by tying it to current issues and tells the audiences exactly what to expect as well as the value they’ll derive from reading the article.
Use your contributed articles as an opportunity to demonstrate your wealth and expertise of industry knowledge. Answer a specific question, give a run-down on the state of the industry, offer a new perspective on a trending debate, or provide a guide to help solve a unique challenge. Not only does this help solidify your brand as a reputable resource, but it also builds brand trust with journalists and your audiences.
Be Strategic – Invest Where it Matters
Here’s the truth: Not every contributed article is going to place. Luckily, in those cases, sponsored content is increasingly becoming a viable option for brands. It ensures your message gets in front of the right audience. And, it provides opportunities for you to tell stories that may have been sidelined with organic contributed content.
Plus, consumer expectations around sponsored content are changing. Readers don’t mind if a piece of content is sponsored – so long as it’s rooted in being genuinely helpful and provides answers to their questions. Journalistic integrity is a crucial aspect of publishing. Readers understand that everything under a publication’s masthead, sponsored or not, is held to that pub’s standards. As an added bonus, you gain third-party validation in the eyes of the reader when your content is published on a website other than your own.
The sponsored route is certainly not the right fit for every piece of content. But in specific situations, it can be worth spending the extra money to maximize the reach and value of your contributed article.
Go with the Ebb and Flow
The past year ushered in a new era of the media landscape evolution, and the space will undoubtedly continue to change. Lean into the shifts the news industry is facing. Experiment with new and creative ways to be a resource for journalists and customers alike. Doing so will ensure your contributed articles – and your thought leadership program – is primed for success, regardless of what changes come next.