“This does sound interesting. Do you have a customer I can speak to?”
For PR types, a response like the above, from a reporter exemplifies a double-edge sword: on the cusp of success you hit a wall.
Start-ups for example, often have novel and expectation-defying philosophies driving their business strategy…but few customers to offer. Moreover, even maturing B2B companies — especially those selling to large, global and media-reticent customer base — struggle to navigate corporate communications policies and obtain publicly reference-able clients.
You need ink; the journalist needs a customer interview — and you are caught delicately trying to balance your way to a favorable outcome. There is a way to work though this common challenge, but it requires you to modify what you pitch slightly.
Contributed articles (sometimes referred to as “bylines”) are a solid way to generate credible coverage with a long shelf-life. As the saying goes, “content is king” and editors usually welcome vendor-neutral, thought-leading concepts. There are dozens of ways the resulting coverage can be integrated into the marketing communications program post-publication:
- Sales collateral. Glossy reprints make for great leave-behinds at tradeshows, sales meetings or even for direct mail. More importantly, customers and prospects are perhaps more inclined to read a well-constructed argument published in a familiar trade magazine, than they might be a marketing brochure.
- Exponential life. Links to the article can be posted to online newsrooms, e-newsletters, blogs, Twitter, social bookmarks, or in response to a blog in the comments section. Such an approach may draw some criticism, but a healthy debate is good for the industry and good for your client, and sometimes lead to other requests for contributed content. This exponential life can become instrumental for companies with a long sales cycle. B2B marketers for example, know that prospects require additional information and validation at different times in the sales process and contributed articles are good tools for facilitation.
There are however drawbacks. Contributed articles can be time-consuming to write, especially if your client has an especially complex technology. In addition, these require planning and long lead times, usually three-to six months for traditional print publications. However the turn-around time can be much faster if you were to write a guest-post for an influential or industry-specific blog.
5 Tips for Pitching Contributed Content
Here are a few examples (read pitch concepts) of articles I’ve successfully pitched and placed. Notice however these are not merely one-off placements, but almost a series of cumulative placements that tell a story.
1. Debunking myths. Pitch clarity around misconceptions about a concept or technology — it provides the opportunity to frame an issue or reposition the competition.
2. Ten tips for everything. Once myths are defined, offer tips for getting to the solution. This format is often easier to write and easier to read — arguably making the contribution more valuable.
3. Think vertical. Vertical or trade publications (i.e. energy or manufacturing) often have highly specialized audiences which makes for a unique opportunity to place customer case studies — and if you have good data, even those that must remain unnamed.
4. Co-write. There is also greater potential to get a customer to agree to co-write an article for a trade publication. It’s good for the customer because they can demonstrate the success in ink to their reporting chain — and they are more likely to be at ease with a publication that sits on the coffee table in their lobby. Corporate communications is also more likely to approve such efforts, as opposed to an interview, because they have the ability to approve the article before it’s submitted. As a bonus, consider using such an article as the basis for an industry award opportunity, which if you win, turns into a press release opportunity, which turns into…you get my point.
5. Get technical help. Contributed articles are a great way to get technical resources, such as development or product management, involved in writing. Interview these types, put their words on paper and have them approve the final copy. You’ll uncover a bevy of new pitch ideas in the process and learn a great deal in the process.
The more byline articles you pen the easier it will become to place them. Often times, other media outlets will begin to notice your prolificacy and begin to ask you for contributions. Above all, contributed articles can be a step towards fostering publicly reference-able customers. When your customers begin to see the positive media outcomes, they become more at ease with the idea of an interview — and that takes the edge off the back-side of the sword.
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