Managing a contributed content program is an art. Every PR team considers it, but few pull it off in an effective way.
I spoke with Diana Shi, assistant editor for Fast Company’s Work Life section, to better understand what it takes to land a killer byline these days. While Diana does a lot of her own reporting, the bulk of her job is reviewing and editing contributor content. She receives dozens of pitches a week and only a small percentage make it to publication, so she knows what it takes for a piece to stand out.
Here are Diana’s top four tips for writing and pitching contributed content:
This sounds basic, but Diana says this is one of the biggest mistakes PR pros make. Fast Company’s guidelines share details about word count, topics, editing processes and more. Once you read the guidelines, make sure you tailor the pitch to explain why the piece is a fit for not only the publication but the specific section you’re pitching. For example, Fast Company staffers may write about election security, but never in the Work Life section.
You’re writing a 700-word article, not a book. Diana says her biggest writing pet peeve is long, meandering introductions, so she advises writers to skip the flowery language and clearly define the thesis within the first few sentences. Overly wordy writing is a sure-fire way for readers to lose interest, so make sure every word counts.
Publications -- and readers! -- are tired of vanilla business advice. Editors want to publish stories that are unconventional and personal, and Diana says executives shouldn’t be afraid to let their personalities shine through. Writing in first-person, sharing unique or surprising stories, and then balancing it out with universal advice is a good formula for success.
This is the hardest lesson for many executives, so let’s say that again for the people in the back: contributed articles are about thought leadership, not company promotion. Diana says to avoid anything that references the writer’s brand or products.
If you’re able to meet Diana’s standards, she says Fast Company is always looking for ongoing contributors. Just be prepared for a trial run -- the Work Life team will measure how your first piece performs and then work with you to cultivate a specific coverage area.
Photo Credit: Unsplash/@jamesponddotco
Darah believes what you say to the world matters, so she’s spent her career helping companies craft the right narrative to reach the right people. Throughout her five years in the Inkhouse San Francisco office, she’s built and executed strategic communications programs for fast-moving companies spanning enterprise tech, venture capital, consumer products and marketplaces. Her focus on business-driven PR initiatives and creative storytelling has helped clients build positive brand reputations and become go-to authorities with press.