It’s a tale as old as time -- ok, maybe as old as the last five years: you have a piece of contributed content that you spent days pulling together with your client. You’ve pitched and pitched, and it seems like no one is interested in your byline on “Why ABC is the Future of XYZ.” Inspired by my colleague, Elizabeth Yekhtikian's list of “10 Ways to Get Out of a Pitching Rut”, here are the questions you need to ask yourself when your contributed content is falling flat:
1. Is this too self- serving? We spend so much time living and breathing our client’s messaging that it can be easy to become blind to content that is overly self-promotional. When your pitch isn’t being well-received, it’s time to go back to the content with an editorial eye. Ask yourself how you can re-frame it to be less about the client and more about the problem or issue they’re addressing. Is there a larger trend you can tie the content to? Are there other examples you can use to illustrate the problem that don’t point back to your client? The most common reason content is rejected is because it’s overly self-promotional, so when your content isn’t working this needs to be the first angle you take to rework it.
2. Is this boring? You and your client may get all excited about mobile collaboration, but that doesn’t mean everyone else will. Take some time to figure out how you can make your content more exciting. The listicle is Buzzfeed’s bread and butter for good reason – it’s a format that works well for reading and sharing on the web. Can you shape your content to work as a list or a how-to? At the same time, take some time to read through your major target’s headlines and top stories. How can you edit your content to match their style and tone? Lastly – ask yourself what you can do to make the content stand out. Is there a news angle you can add? Is there a contrarian stance you can argue? If your content reads like corporate boilerplate, it’s not going far.
3. What can we add? Charts, pictures, multimedia: the days of straight-forward Op-Eds are long gone. How can you make your content more compelling? Is there a chart or image you can you use to illustrate your point of view? Why not embed a supporting video or get really wild and embed some tweets that illustrate your argument. An editor is going to be looking for visual elements when it’s time to publish the post, so get ahead of them by crafting your content around something visually compelling.
4. Is this the right pitch? When content isn’t working, it may be time to take a step back and rethink how you’re pitching it. Some editors like getting the full draft of the content as part of the initial pitch, which removes some of the back-and-forth. But sometimes this can kill your content before it even has a chance. Consider approaching your targets from less of a place of “Here’s this great piece of content with a unique POV and it’s all wrapped and ready to go” and more of a “Hi, would you be interested in a byline from really interesting person A about XYZ? If not, how about 123?” Some of my most successful content pitches have come from offering the editor a selection of byline angles that they can pick and choose from. This way, instead of trying to force feed them you’re establishing a mutually beneficial relationship.
Placing contributed content can make or break your PR program. When there’s no news, it’s often our best bet for keeping the coverage flowing. So, as you craft your content, ask yourself these questions before you put pen to paper. Your content (and client) will thank you for it.