The Ultimate Guide to Contributed Articles for your Business
Do you constantly look for ways to get your brand noticed and talked about, but feel like you keep running into a brick wall? You may be missing out on a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and leadership to your audience – contributed articles.
Contributed articles are magazine articles written by companies that present a vendor-neutral perspective on subjects your audience wants to learn more about. While often omitted from communications strategies, they should be used to support your overall communications objectives.
Why write contributed articles instead of sit for a journalist interview? Think about the last time a journalist approached your company about your latest invention or cutting-edge business culture. Likely never if you’re a smaller company. What is your return on investment for press releases? Probably very low, although they are excellent marketing tools in some situations. For most companies, it is almost impossible to get noticed in magazines.
Contributed articles take a lot of work, but they help establish you and your company’s credibility. And, you get to control the content rather than rely on a journalist to understand the nuances of your position.
Ready to get started on contributed articles? Read on for the ultimate guide of best practices, how to generate topic ideas, how to increase the reach of your article, pitfalls to avoid, and the process of pitching and writing contributed articles.
From choosing your topic to understanding editorial guidelines, there are several things you can do to give your article the best chance at being published.
- Avoid self-promotion. Never, ever, ever use contributed articles for self-promotion. First, most publishers won’t even consider overly promotional pieces. Second, using contributed articles for promotion makes the writing about you, not your readers or your potential customers.
- Keep the article vendor neutral. Publishers want pieces that appeal to a wide audience. By keeping your piece vendor neutral, you fulfill the publisher’s need for good content that they can publish.
- Know the purpose of the article. I write a short statement at the beginning of every article. It won’t get published, but helps me focus. For example, “This blog post will inform business owners about best practices for writing contributed articles.” This quick sentence helps you write a focused article that keeps your intended audience in mind.
- Allow your passion for your subject to come through. Hopefully, you’ve chosen a topic you care about. If so, then don’t hide that passion from your readers. Let them know how excited you are about your solutions, inventions, and stories.
- Express your opinion. Vendor-neutral does not mean that you don’t have an opinion about your topic. Keep in mind that you aren’t writing an essay, but your opinion informs your writing and you don’t need to hide it. Just don’t pontificate!
- Be honest. We hear a lot about authenticity in marketing. It applies for contributed articles as well. Readers can sense when you don’t believe what you write. Always be honest and share openly.
- Use plain English. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve fallen into industry-speak. Depending on your audience, some jargon is fine, but keep it to a minimum. The last thing you want is for your editor to reject your piece because it was written for too narrow an audience.
- Use a conversational tone. Write your article as if you’re having a conversation with a friend who isn’t in the same industry. This technique helps minimize jargon and makes your language more approachable – there’s no need for formal writing in contributed articles.
- Get to the point immediately. Don’t spend 4 paragraphs hemming and hawing your way to the point of the article. You have mere seconds to hook your reader, so convince them to keep reading in the first sentence.
- Don’t lead with data. Building on point #9, throwing data at your reader in the first sentences is not the way to hook them. Save that for later.
- Use data. Just because you shouldn’t lead with it, doesn’t mean data isn’t important. Data in the form of stories, metrics and statistics lend credence to your argument.
- Go where your audience is. This seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget that our intended audience may not read the same publications we do. Learn what they read and target those publications.
- Follow editorial guidelines. Many publications have editorial or submission guidelines that tell you about the topics they publish, their audience, article length, photos or graphics and more. Following the guidelines gives the publisher one less reason to reject your article. If you can’t find the guidelines on their website, ask the publisher or editor – they will usually send you the information you need.
- Use the editorial calendar. Editorial calendars show the themes in each issue for the coming year. You can usually find them in the marketing section of a publication’s website. They are great for choosing topics and making sure you pitch your ideas early enough in the process to get included in issues about specific themes.
- Edit and proofread. Do not assume the magazine’s editor will take care of this. It’s up to you to edit your own work or hire someone to do it for you. This makes you look good to the publisher and makes it more likely that your article will be published.
- Never, ever, ever criticize the competition. Besides making you look petty, criticizing your competition is yet another way to make the article about you, not about your readers.
You can submit almost any type of article or topic if you find the right publication. The trick is to keep the articles vendor neutral while subtly promoting your services. Here are a few tips for generating ideas.
- Monitor the market. Keep track of industry news and developments, especially among your direct competitors. Mine the information for article ideas.
- Listen to your customers. If you have a blog with comments enabled, your customers can give you ideas for topics. What questions are they asking that can apply to your industry? What are their pain points? What problems do they have that nobody seems to have a solution for? These are all excellent starting points for contributed articles.
- Use your executive expertise. Rather than try to overtly sell your cutting-edge business culture, talk about the problem you saw, what led you to make changes, how you came up with a solution, and how your business has benefited.
- Write problem and solution articles. If you know your audience, you should know the problems they face. Outline services or products that your business provides to solve those problems. This is a subtle way to promote your business without using promotional tactics. Case studies are an excellent format for this type of article.
- Write about lessons learned. Generally, we hate talking about our mistakes. But lessons learned from mistakes make excellent contributed articles. Be open about the challenges your business faces and how you address those challenges. Rather than show vulnerability, you show a willingness to learn from mistakes and move forward.
- Express your opinion. Your opinion on current industry topics can provide valuable insights for others in your industry. Conferences are an excellent place to pick up on industry news that you can write about.
- Give actionable advice. Some publications accept lists, but check the guidelines. Lists and tips can be a great way to give practical advice that readers can act on.
- Provide dos and don’ts. As with lists and tips, these type of articles give excellent guidance for readers on best practices and pitfalls to avoid.
- Discuss industry changes. Technology and new approaches bring changes to most industries. Articles about coping or adjusting to those changes are valuable tools for readers.
- Offer industry predictions. If you’re an industry leader, you may be aware of upcoming changes that will affect your business. Articles about predictions and ways to prepare for potential industry changes demonstrate your industry leadership.
- Write about industry challenges. Each industry has unique challenges that businesses may not want to talk about. An honest article about those challenges and tips for minimizing their impact can help readers.
Get More from your Contributed Articles
Once your article is published, make the most of it. Don’t let it languish on the shelf.
- Find multiple outlets. You can rewrite your original article for several audiences. For example, let’s say you’ve written about your latest technical innovation. You decide that your primary audience is executives, so you write a piece about the problem you saw, why you decided to use resources to solve the problem, and the return on investment. Then you rewrite the piece for a technical audience that also outlines the problem but focuses on the technical aspects of the solution. Finally, you rewrite the article for customers by outlining the problem and how the solution benefits them. Then you pitch your articles to three different publications.
- Rework for new formats. Once your story is published, the magazine has certain publication rights. Even if you can’t republish the article for a set period of time, you can rework and use the content. Post related key ideas on Slideshare, create an infographic for your blog, videos for your YouTube channel, a podcast for your website, and social media content. If the published article is available online link to it within your website, social media accounts, social media bios, videos, slide decks, and infographics.
- Use the bio wisely. Most publications allow you to create a short bio for your work. The bio is where the time and effort of creating contributed articles leads back to your business. Include relevant business information as well as a link to your company website.
- Publish quality content. This should go without saying, but if you don’t publish quality content, you’re wasting your time and money. Poorly written articles should get rejected at the submission phase, but if they manage to get through the process, they can do more harm to your brand than good.
- Do your own writing. One of the services I offer is ghostwriting. However, I would strongly advise any client not to hire a ghostwriter for contributed articles. First and foremost, you are using articles to establish credibility and leadership – that will disappear if readers find out that your name shouldn’t be in the byline. Second, most publishers take a dim view of the wrong name in a byline – their credibility is also at stake.
- Hire an editor. So, what if you know you aren’t a great writer, but I’ve convinced you to try contributed articles? Simply hire an editor. Write your article in draft form and pass it on for editing. Alternatively, you could record your article and get it transcribed for editing. This way, your editor polishes your prose and the article is still yours.
How to Pitch and Write Contributed Articles
Now that we’ve gone through some best practices, here’s a few tips for pitching and writing your article.
Pitch your Idea
Before you write the article, you need to pitch it to a publication. If you’ve followed step #28, you’ll be able to pitch several versions of your article at once. If you don’t have time to do these steps, hire a contract writer or get someone with knowledge of pitching within your organization to do this work. It can be time-consuming and, sometimes, discouraging. But it pays off when your article is published.
- Choose your topic carefully. Do not write about a subject. Focus on a topic and make sure everything in your article supports your topic. When you sit down to think about your topic, you might come up with several excellent ideas. Choose one and put the rest into a file for your next article.
- Choose your audience. Deciding on your audience and topic can happen simultaneously. But it is important to understand who you are writing for (remember, this is never about you!) because that will shape the language and content you include.
- Decide which publication to pitch to. Once you know your topic and audience, you’ll have a better idea about which publication to pitch your idea to. Trade and industry magazines, both print and online, are often ideal outlets for contributed articles.
- Write and Send your Pitch. Pitching contributed articles is a whole other subject matter – I’ll write a post on it in the near future. What’s important is to pitch directly to the publications’ editor (it can take some work to find the editor, but it’s worth the effort), tell the editor what your proposed story is about, why their readers will find it useful or newsworthy, the general points you will make, and why you are the best person to write the article. Keep the pitch short and put it in the body of your email.
Write your Article
Don’t be surprised if your first pitch isn’t accepted. It’s impossible to predict exactly what editors will need and when they’ll need it. But if your idea is good, you’ll find the right publication for it. At that point, you need to actually write the article. When an editor commissions you to write an article, they often make changes to your pitch so the piece will fit their editorial needs. Follow those changes carefully. If you also follow the best practices listed above, your article will be a success. And, the more contributed articles you write, the easier the process becomes. I’ll publish a post on best business writing practices in the coming weeks.
Now it’s time to put this information to good use and write some contributed articles. Start by thinking about ideas, audiences, and business magazine outlets. If you’re really unsure of how to start, book a consultation with a writer like me who can help you make these initial decisions and guide you through the pitch and article writing phases.
Is there anything I missed in this guide? Let me know in the comments so we can all benefit.