Just a handful of years ago, The Denver Post had more than 250 reporters. Despite the Centennial State’s booming growth in recent years, the state’s largest news organization now employs just 60-some journalists to tell the stories of individuals and businesses across Colorado.
Making matters worse, this problem extends well beyond the Mile High City and Colorado’s largest daily newspaper. Today, there are fewer journalists in newsrooms across the country than at any time since the early 1970s. Since 2008 alone, national newsroom employment has dropped by a quarter — and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse. Losses in advertising revenue have hamstrung countless local papers, journalists have been laid off and some publications have completely folded.
As the media landscape continues this unfortunate shift, earning coverage from the editorial side of any media outlet is increasingly challenging. However, the desire for well-written and informative content has never been more pronounced, which opens an opportunity to pitch contributed content (also known as bylined articles) in more publications than ever.
What is Contributed Content?
Contributed content is, well, content created by a nonjournalist that is contributed to a third-party publication often targeted to a specific audience. Contributed articles written in AP style that display thought leadership have numerous benefits. They can raise brand awareness, educate audiences, establish expertise and amplify your point of view or mission to a larger audience.
Contributed placements complement a publication’s editorial content by offering a neutral perspective on topics relevant to a publication’s readers. As such, it is not an advertisement for the products or services your organization offers. When done well, contributed content enables organizations to leverage established media audiences with a targeted and appropriate message that provides them with useful information.
In the face of dwindling newsroom employment, contributed content is an ideal method of gaining “coverage” in a media outlet, even if you don’t immediately have something groundbreaking or newsworthy to announce and don’t want to pay for an ad.
Whether you seek to contribute content to Wired, Forbes, Business Insider, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur or other publications that accept contributed articles, how can your company take advantage of this shifting landscape to create content that publications can’t refuse? This blog details our contributed content development process so that you can create one that works for you!
How to Become a Contributing Writer
Before we go any further, let’s talk about the “Golden Rule of Content”: This must not be a sales for feature piece about your company. This is expertise on a topic. In many cases, the only time your name will appear is in the byline for the article, and the only place your company name will appear is in an “about the author” paragraph at the end of the article. You want to impart your knowledge on a topic, not sell your company. The benefit? Drop some good knowledge, and targets will look you up. One of our clients reported a dozen inquiries (and four new clients) from one article that only mentioned his company once — in the “about the author” paragraph.
Develop Your Topic
Read publications covering your industry. Peruse their editorial calendars. Once you have a handle on the outlets that might accept an article on a topic to which you can speak (and that aligns with your organizational goals), develop a list of potential topics. Important note: Not all outlets accept contributed content, so make sure they do before spending time crafting a “pitch to nowhere.” From there, you can hone in on one that captivates you or that you genuinely care about. Nothing shines through in writing quite like your passion for a subject.
Ensure Alignment with the Media Outlet
Present your idea to relevant outlets — even prestigious top-tier media outlets are now accepting content contributed from outside sources. Just be sure that your topic of choice aligns with that outlet’s editorial placements and provides useful information to its readers. For example, if you’re the founder of a cybersecurity company, you probably wouldn’t pitch a health care-centric outlet unless your topic could speak to securing patient electronic health records or other sensitive information collected by health care providers.
How to Write a Pitch for an Article
When you’re writing your pitch to an editor or journalist, remember to keep it short and sweet and offer a story of value. Reporters are inundated with hundreds, even thousands, of pitches every day, so be sure yours stands out from the crowd — in a good way. Many journalists have no problem with tweeting the subpar media pitches they receive out to their audiences.
Craft a compelling email subject line. The subject line is the first thing they’ll see in their inbox, so try to make it engaging enough to encourage an editor to click on and read your note. Make sure the story you’re pitching aligns with the beat or topics the reporter you’re reaching out to actually covers. And never send a canned pitch to a broad array of reporters hoping one of them bites.
The best content tends to be well researched. How else can you create content that shows you’re a trustworthy and authoritative source? Once you’ve determined your topic has been and your pitch has been accepted, it’s time to research.
Begin with a Google search. Subscribe to industry publications. Browse industry message boards and online forums. Read books and research reports related to your topic. See what your competitors are saying — and say it better. In short, gather as much info as possible.
Researching your topic empowers you with the ability to blow audience minds and dig deeper than your competition with the level of depth you’re offering. Research also backs up your claims with facts and figures, bringing real data to support your premise.
Talk With Subject Matter Expert(s)
While we like to think we’re pretty smart cookies, even after researching we aren’t experts at every subject. As such, it’s important we talk to the subject matter experts (SMEs) and lean on their knowledge to develop our content. This step is vitally important when we’re not ultra knowledgeable about a subject or when working with new clients. Experts can offer key insights into their industry, which makes your job as a writer much easier.
This one is pretty straightforward. Organize your research and the information gleaned from chatting with the SME and get drafting! Remember that while many organizations will have their own content style guide, Associated Press (AP) style is the go-to style for journalism and news writing.
Proof and Review with Expert
A crucial — but often overlooked — next step is proofreading your content. And don’t just blindly trust spell check. Your content needs to feature no glaring spelling and grammatical errors in order to show search engine crawlers that your content is of a high standard. Fortunately, there are several tools that will help proofread for you, but even these tools are not as good as a fresh set of eyes.
After verifying your copy is clear, consistently formatted and has correct word usage, spelling and grammar, review your draft with the SME for accuracy and clarity. Again, they’re the expert for a reason — welcome their input.
Work With Editor
After sending your content to the publication’s editor, you might have to collaborate with them further. Consider any changes, comments or suggestions the editor makes carefully, and work with them on any outstanding edits. You may also have to supply them with links that back up your message or provide them with high-resolution infographics, photographs of the author, images of the company logo, etc.
That’s our contributed content development process — feel free to adopt some elements of our process or tell us what works well for you! We’ve seen recent successes in outlets like Bloomberg, Propmodo, Wind Systems and Hospitality Technology for Hygge Power, Daydream Apartments, Vaisala and Valyant AI, respectively.
This approach works in both traditional and online media, as well as on key blog and influencer sites. If you aren’t sure where to begin, our team can help you find opportunities, pitch the editor, interview your subject matter expert and develop the copy for your review. Let us know how we can help you!