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Five tips for writing contributed articles that get published and read - Francis Moran & AssociatesFrancis Moran & Associates

Five tips for writing contributed articles that get published and read

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By Linda Forrest

There’s an art to successfully pitching and writing effective contributed articles as part of a content marketing strategy for your business-to-business technology company. Why should this tactic be considered as a component of your marketing plan? There are many benefits that support the creation and placement of bylined articles, as outlined in a post on the Idea Marketers blog espousing their virtues:

Bylined articles:

  • Build industry recognition for your technology.
  • Position your executives and engineers as experts to your target audiences.
  • Yield highly qualified leads that lead to sales.

But these benefits can only be enjoyed if you adhere to best practices in the pitching and development of your article. As with any other marketing tactic, there are a lot of ways to do this badly. In a post on the Tell All Marketing blog, Ray Schultz provides some solid lists of what to do and what not to do when developing bylined articles. His “don’t” list consists of the following:

  • Pitch your product. The bylined article should be a neutral educational piece.
  • Plagiarize. It can happen inadvertently—make sure quotes and paraphrases are sourced.
  • Write like an academic.
  • Submit self-serving articles like, “The Case for Outsourcing,” or “How to Find a Vendor.”
  • Get testy about copyediting. Take it from a seasoned hack: Two years later, you won’t remember who did what to your copy. But you will have a better article to show for it.

Since the explosion of the web, the number of places that might publish contributed pieces has increased exponentially. As the number of journalists on the payroll at print outlets has dwindled, editors have looked for other ways to fill their editorial space and contributed pieces – informative articles, vendor-neutral, thought-leadership articles, case studies, and other formats – have been able to fulfill that role.

What follows are five tips to help you write contributed articles that will support your communications and business objectives, but also have a better shot at getting published and read by decision-makers in your industry.

1. Know your audience

Who are you trying to reach with your article? Are you hoping to sell the C-suite on the business case for technology such as yours? To solve a specific problem that engineers are facing in a particular industry? Knowing who you’re hoping will read your article goes a long way in guiding your research as to where you should aim to have your piece published. Using a lot of technical, down-in-the-technology-weeds jargon will not serve you well with an executive audience, and talking business case and profit margins will not stand you in good stead with a technology audience. There are myriad media outlets – from niche website to trade magazine, marquee blog to local business journal – that may speak to your specific audience. It’s essential that you determine who it is you want to reach and that you then target your pitch to outlets that speak directly to or influence that audience.

2. Target your pitch

With some marketing tactics, you want to cast a wide net. Take news releases, for example. News releases, typically, are widely distributed, with the expectation that this distribution will result in some wholesale rebroadcast of the release (which almost never results in original coverage of any consequence), in addition to original coverage that draws on information from the release as background.

This is not the case with contributed articles. The key to success is targeting your pitch at the right publication or few publications that will deliver the most return on your investment. It is highly unlikely that more than one outlet will agree to publish the same article word for word; many outlets demand exclusivity when it comes to contributed articles.

There are different levels of investment required depending on what sort of outlet you target. For instance, the commitment for developing an academic paper for a peer-reviewed journal is considerably more laborious than writing a brief blog post for an industry website. Regardless of the size or perceived influence of the target outlet, the article should be developed with the utmost attention to detail and quality. But how to best convey your message? Many outlets offer guidelines that will provide important pointers about how to draft an article that has a good chance of being approved for publication by the deciding editor, and if that’s the case, will lessen the amount of editing required before it goes live or to print.

3. Write your article according to the editorial guidelines of the target publication

Be sure to communicate with the editor of the target publication to determine whether there are specific editorial guidelines that should be following when drafting your submission. If you’re not mindful of the specific requirements of your target outlet, there’s a good chance you’ll write the piece in the wrong tense, not include the requisite number of images/sources/charts/etc., expect payment when none is forthcoming, anticipate posting the article to multiple outlets where exclusivity is demanded… Are you able to include real world examples in your article to validate your points? Can you quote customers singing the praises of technology such as yours? Are you able to include the author’s contact information? Your company’s URL?

In some cases, it will be necessary to provide an abstract, or brief outline of the proposed submission, for approval before the article itself is developed. Rather than expend needless effort writing up an entire article that may or may not be approved, understanding that an abstract is required and developing one that exhibits a solid understanding of the outlet’s editorial guidelines will better chances of publication.

Each outlet will have its own editorial mandate and preferences; some of these guidelines are posted, while others can only be discovered by asking the editor what they’re after. Delivering a 2,000-word article when the outlet only publishes 500-word articles will damage the chances of this article – or any future articles – being published. A little research will go a long way in informing your development of the submission.

4. Submit articles that line up with topics on editorial calendars

Not all publications have editorial calendars, as many outlets ascribe to the theory that editorial calendars are an antiquated tool that used to be used strictly to determine the advertising focus of print publications. While this is partially true, the editorial calendar remains a useful tool for both the outlet itself, governing both editorial and advertising, but also for those hoping to have contributed articles published. If you have a solid understanding of the lead time of an outlet (no use pitching against next month’s subject if the article would have had to have been submitted six months prior), and access to the published editorial calendar, the chances of your submission being published increase if the subject matter lines up with issues that the outlet plans to cover anyway.

5. Write articles that deliver real value rather than sell your wares

This seems like an obvious one, but it’s worth repeating: articles that deliver true value – helping the target audience to solve a real problem – will be those that elevate the author as a thought leader in their industry. Jargon-filled articles that pitch your products will fall flat with the editorial gatekeepers and with the readers of the target outlet.

Image: How Find

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