The guest column and the business publication
Byline, guest article, blog submission, white paper — clients are often keen on submitting their amazing ideas in their own words.
Unlike general news stories where clients/sources provide their expert commentary as part of a mix of voices, with a guest article there’s no risk of a misquote, improper title, or the common refrain PR folks hear: “Why are there other people quoted in the article?”
From the perspective of allowing a client a venue to provide their thought leadership, guest columns are great.
With a slew of other responsibilities, many editors face a backlog of submissions, as well as columns that may not meet their expectations.
With that in mind, what are the best practices for pitching a guest column?
We asked a few editors and folks who have at some point in their careers been tasked with reviewing guest columns.
Bryan Yurcan, a senior writer for American Banker focusing on fintech, noted that contributors may wish to peg their column to a current focus of the publication:
“It definitely is best to send a synopsis, as no one will have the time to read a full article unsolicited, and you’ll also save your client the time and effort of writing an entire article that may not get published. Also obviously make sure the article isn’t self-promotional and is more of a “thought leader” kind of article, that will enlighten and educate people. You can also check editorial calendars; if there’s an issue with a theme coming up and you have a client focused in that area, they might run a guest op-ed in that issue. Also consider how saturated the topic is; you might have a client who is an expert in mobile banking, but that is a well-written about topic. But if you have a client that is an expert on a certain regulation that’s important but not widely discussed, a contribute article on that may be more valuable.”
Sean Creamer, a reporter at eMarketer who’s also worked at Wall Street-focused publications, agreed that sending the full column isn’t ideal, and noted that aesthetics play a role:
“The whole article right off the bat isn’t a good idea….Next, I would say that make sure you understand exactly what the publisher wants from you, the guest writer…Always send a first draft in!!! This lines up with my last best practice, but it’s quite important. If someone sends over unpolished copy close to deadline, the publisher will chop it to pieces or change the voice of the writer to make something sane of the piece. Worst case scenario, the story is dropped completely. Lastly, have a good headshot!!! nothing is worse than running a guest column and having no photo to put in because the person sent you a camera phone selfie at 1:00 a.m. while still in bed.”
Katie Kuehner-Herbert, an award-winning business journalist who has vetted guest columns for B2B publications, emphasized that guest pieces should not be advertisements for a company’s services:
“PR professionals should pitch “thought leader” pieces — topical issues that their company’s execs can discuss that showcases their expertise. For example, a bank PR person could pitch an advice piece to a magazine that targets small business owners, giving those readers tips on how to become more bankable — the things they would need to do to be able to obtain lines of credit for working capital on a steady basis. The pitches that most editors do not want to see are overt advertorials about the company’s products or services.”
Jonathan Shieber, a senior editor for TechCrunch’s Crunch Network, noted one of the more salient mistakes he sees with guest submissions:
“The biggest mistake is that pieces tend to be far too self-promotional. The idea for any guest column should be around an actual notion of thought leadership and try to address an industry or subject as closely as possible, as opposed to how a company’s product or service would be a fit.”
To summarize, send an outline first (never the full column) in order to ensure it meets the current criteria for guest articles. Also, ensure to limit the promotional aspect, and remember that selfies don’t make good headshots.
Bill C. Smith (@BillCSmith87) is an assistant vice president at Makovsky Integrated Communications in New York.