Content creation is the foundation of PR. Ultimately, we want to get our stories across to the right audiences, and more than ever this requires writing and sharing them ourselves. As our CEO Beth Monaghan observed about the changing media landscape, “We can’t expect audiences to come to us [and] we can’t expect reporters to dig into our stories anymore.”
With Medium, LinkedIn Pulse and Facebook changing the way content is developed and delivered, we have to be more strategic about the way we craft stories and target audiences. The "bylined article" itself is not dead. It has just evolved to embody various forms of content, and it requires more precision in today’s competitive media environment.
Whether it’s published on LinkedIn or runs as a piece in The Washington Post, contributed content must be well planned and, of course, tell a great story. So how do you write a great story? Here are seven steps to set you on the right track:
1. Remember the basics. Even in our fast-paced industry, a great story requires planning, research and an outline. An outline not only helps you organize your thoughts, it can also prevent you from burying the lede or straying from the main points of the article. More forethought and structure will better position a story for placement in media publications with high standards.
2. Read the news. You can’t tell an interesting story without understanding the current pulse of the media and media cycles. To be viewed as a true thought leader and present your story with an informed, unique perspective in an article it’s critical to know what has already been said. Further, closely following your target publications will help you understand what they are looking for from contributed authors and the style in which these articles are written.
3. Don’t be late to the party. Oh you want to write about the primary elections? The news has moved on, sorry. When there are hot topics, such as cybersecurity or the Internet of Things (IoT), that flood news cycles, there is little room left for generic observations a few months later. Either be a pioneer and write about an emerging trend or take a controversial stance on a topic that’s nearly a #TBT. As mentioned, reading the news will help you stay on top of trends and identify the best opening for your voice.
4. Be authentic. Why are you the author of your story? What perspective, past experience and personal knowledge do you bring forward that makes you an expert and engages audiences? Bylined articles are effectively proof points for thought leaders. To be recognized as a thought leader, you must demonstrate to readers why your perspective matters. Sharing personal anecdotes or lessons learned help demonstrate authenticity and spark interest in your audience. This is critical for both writing content and establishing social media profiles that help connect your voice across various platforms.
5. Back it up with data. To help reinforce your authenticity and claim of expertise about a certain topic or industry sector, include relevant data points in the articles that back up your statements. Data is a powerful tool for writers. It transitions readers from qualitative observations to concrete quantitative facts, deepening the value of your words and impacting their understanding of an event, trend or best practice.
6. Know your audience and your platform. Once you have an outline and you’ve done your research to back up your claims with data, identify where your audience goes to find news and choose the right outlet. Understanding how your audience gets news is the first critical step, but you must also know how to write for the target publication you have chosen. Are you writing recommendations in a listicle format for Inc., delving into the details of new technology and its impact for TechCrunch or responding to major industry trends and events from a leadership perspective for LinkedIn Pulse or The Washington Post? Bylined articles will never be successful without understanding what your audience and target outlet wants from its contributed authors, including the tone and style of how that content is delivered.
7. Put it to work. You’ve successfully published a bylined article – now what? Share it across social media channels, publish it as a blog post with a disclaimer linking back to the original site of publication and syndicate it on forums and relevant news aggregators. Just because the article ran, doesn’t mean the job is done. As content professionals, we must continue to promote and find value in the content we’ve created to truly make an impact and reach our audiences.
Contributed articles are one of the most effective vehicles for PR professionals, but we need a plan of action and knowledge of the media to write and place a great story.