Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, President & CEO of Rhino PR
Have you noticed colleagues – or your biggest competitor – publishing articles in industry trade publications? Byline articles are an effective way to deliver thought leadership directly to your target audience, and here are a few tips and tricks to get you started.
A byline article is a powerful tool to showcase your expertise on a given topic, with the benefit of the publication’s masthead adding credibility. The goal of a byline article is to educate readers on a trend or best practice in your industry, or provide actionable information they can easily apply through a case study. A byline article featuring a case study should cover the client’s goal or objective, the challenges the design/construction team faced, the solution, and the project results. Consider co-authoring with a client or another member of the project team to make a powerful impact with more than one perspective. A trend piece could identify a current or future industry trend, giving insight into market changes and guidance to address common problems.
Whichever type of byline article you opt to write, remember that it is intended to share expertise and advice on a common problem or issue. A byline article is not a promotional piece, and a firm’s marketing jargon and product placement should be strictly avoided. Unless it will be published as a conversational blog, a byline article should be written in third person narrative to convey objectivity and authority. The third person point of view uses pronouns like he, she, it, or they, while the first person uses pronouns such as I and me.
Pitching Your Story
Your first step should be pitching and securing placement of your article in a publication. Determine which publications best reach your target audience, considering daily print media, vertical trade journals, and online publications. Do your homework: read the publication, check the editorial guidelines, or email the editor directly to determine if the publication accepts contributed – or byline – articles. Most monthly magazines work two to four months ahead of the publication date, so be sure to leave enough time to contact the editor, secure the opportunity, and write the article.
Develop a compelling topic that communicates a newsworthy message or story to pitch. Think like an editor. What trends or market sectors is the publication covering? Is there a new process or project that feels fresh and cutting edge? Can someone in your firm be offered as an industry expert for a current trend? Check the publication’s editorial calendar, and then craft your pitch to fit with the publication’s upcoming topic.
Just as you are an expert in your field, a public relations (PR) consultant is an expert in understanding how the media works, and has developed relationships with editors and publications. A PR consultant can be an invaluable resource for placing a byline article, from knowing which publications accept byline articles and when to pitch them to crafting the pitch (and possibly writing the article) for you.
The Writing Process
You pitched an article idea, and the editor selected your topic – and you – as the expert in your field. The knowledge conveyed in a byline article is yours, but it is perfectly acceptable to receive assistance in authoring your byline article. Your marketing team or a PR consultant can interview you and write the article, providing you with a draft for technical editing and final approval before submission to the editor.
The article should be written to entice readers to want to learn more. Tailor the content to the demographics of the media outlet, matching the tone and style of the publication. It is appropriate to incorporate technical language and scientific abbreviations for some publications, while others cater to a general audience and require more ordinary language. The addition of industry keywords and author and firm names will help with search engine optimization.
Once the article is written, it should undergo an internal peer review to check for technical accuracy, and be proofread and edited for grammar and word flow by your PR or marketing team. Prepare a brief author bio with your job title, a description of your firm, and a link to your firm’s website to appear with your article.
Each publication specifies a general format and style for byline articles, and editors will often forward the publication’s editorial guidelines when accepting a pitch. Typically, there is a minimum and maximum word count – averaging around 1,000 words for most industry publications – and graphic requirements such as project photos, infographics, and an author headshot. Be prepared to provide image credit and captions for each item.
It’s helpful to immediately start securing the graphic components as soon as your pitch is accepted, as they sometimes require time to design and create or to acquire publishing rights. Photos and graphics must be delivered in a certain format, usually high resolution, and sent as .jpg attachments rather than embedded in your article’s text, as they will be forwarded to the publication’s art department for layout.
Pay attention to the deadline. Delivering your article and any required components in conformance to the publication’s editorial guidelines should be a priority. If you need more time, approach the editor to request an extension. Keeping the line of communication open helps build a relationship with the editor and establishes you as a reliable resource.
What to expect when publishing your first article
Some publications will publish your submitted article as is, some will lightly edit, some will edit and allow you to review before publishing, and some will publish an edited version without your prior notification. After the article is submitted, it is at the editor/publication’s discretion whether the author will have an opportunity to review it before the issue goes to print or gets posted online.
It is standard for an editor to ask you to sign a “release to publish” form, typically to confirm that you are the author, the article has not appeared in another publication (remaining exclusive to their publication), and is accurate and fact checked. Discuss any concerns with the editor. With a signed release form, the publication owns the copyright for the piece and can reuse it at their discretion, but generally they want your piece distributed to a wider audience, as long as they are properly credited as the publisher. If the legality frightens you, ask your PR consultant or marketing department to review it.
Securing a byline article can require between three to six months of diligent research and pitching before impactful results are felt. Be patient, keep pitching, and soon you will hit a home run!