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A guest article, bylined post, or opinion editorial (OpEd) piece may sound like three different things, but they’re the same in reality. Whichever term you use - the latter two being favored by publications and the media industry - these three terms describe an article written by you (or ghostwritten for you) that allows you to show off your knowledge in a particular field.
They differ from press releases, which announce news related to your company, and sponsored articles, which give you a chance to promote your products and services. Guest articles are a great way to tell the world that you are the best person to talk to when it comes to your particular vertical, industry, or sector.
Well-constructed and thought-out bylined articles may be the most impressive and authoritative way to establish credibility with your target audience, contributing to your reputation and allowing you to share your insights. They allow you to stand out from your competitors and, if picked up by a major publication - or “tier one” as they’re often called - will get your name in lights and put you on a pedestal in your field.
They’re great for media outlets too. Most publications accept and circulate guest articles to add expertise without utilizing the resources of the editorial team.
But there are several rules you need to follow when writing OpEds and pitching them to the media, especially tier-one publications.
Bylined articles work best when you combine your knowledge on a topic with current events or recent research and always should be absent of one crucial item - any mention of, or link to, your company, product, or service. OpEds are not the place to promote your offerings. Including anything to do with your solution is the fastest way to get rejected by almost every publication.
There’s an additional benefit to including recent news or studies too. You should always have at least one link in your piece to show where you read the relating information or found the insights from an SEO perspective. If you want to score extra search engine optimization points, a link to an older, related article published by the target media outlet will do the job (an “internal link”). We’ll talk about pitching soon, but changing the internal link every time you send the draft to a different outlet is vital.
When it comes to citing research, “recent” means anything that has been released in the last three months. Anything older than that starts to become less relevant, and the newer the study, the better.
Building a list of media outlets for your article is crucial. Yes, “outlets” is meant to be plural. You should only pitch your draft to them one at a time and wait for either “yes” or “no” before moving to the next.
So how do you create this list and then prioritize it, so the best publication is first?
One method is to search for keywords and phrases using Google News, then list the publications that circulate stories relating to your expertise. Once you have a list, and it is recommended to have at least five options, you need to work out their readership numbers to put them in the correct order - highest circulation first, down the lowest last.
The easiest way to do this is to search for the publication’s website using SimilarWeb, which estimates the likely readership numbers. The only cost involved with this method is your time or that of your team.
Suppose you want to save time on publication discovery. In that case, you can search for relevant publications using MuckRack, a repository of almost every media outlet and the journalists that write for them - both freelance and staff. Of course, there’s a cost involved, but MuckRack will save you a lot of time over Google News searches. MuckRack will also give you the unique visitors per month (UVM) for each publication, saving you several SimilarWeb searches.
Of course, if you’re working with a PR agency, it will likely build this list for you as part of the service being offered.
When you have your target publications list, it is essential to make sure you understand the editorial guidelines for each of the targets outlets you’ve identified and make a note of how to pitch your draft or abstract (a title and one or two short paragraphs explaining what it will be about, and why it is interesting at this exact time). Some will provide a form to fill in, and others will offer you a contact and email address.
Depending on the outlet and whether they offer an extensive form to complete, just the basics, or an email address, you may need to send a pitch.
The best pitch emails and messages have a few things in common. A killer subject line that immediately grabs the interest of the OpEd editor or team, a short bio of the author including details of why they are the best person to provide this specific knowledge, a catchy title, and a brief abstract. If pitching, those elements are typically followed by the question, “would you like to see the draft?”
Some publications will ask you to send the draft using a form, so that call to action becomes a moot point.
Remember to only pitch to one outlet at a time, in priority order, and wait for an answer. It’s ok to follow up - gently and respectfully - after a couple of days, but if you don’t get a “hell yes” or an “absolutely not” within 4-5 days, it’s time to pitch again to the second publication on your list. Don’t forget to change the internal link to reference an older article that particular target has circulated.
What happens when you get a yes? The simple answer is this - whatever the publication and OpEd editor wants.
You can reduce the chance of significant changes by ensuring you’ve written your draft in the correct language and per that particular outlet’s editorial policies. For most tier-one publications, and a substantial number of those on the next tier down, that will mean writing in US English and following Associated Press Style guidelines.
But the most important thing you can do now is just wait for it to go live. It is rare to see a draft published without a single change, and unless the editor updates your draft to include a critical error (in which case, it’s OK to contact them, explain, and ask for an update), you need just to let it go. Don’t be a diva, and contact the OpEd editor or team to tell them that the use of the word “critical” isn’t as good as the “major” you used. It’s their outlet, not yours, and therefore their decision.
Using a tool like Grammarly will help you catch spelling and grammatical errors, and the paid-for version will make enhanced suggestions. The “pro” version will give you pointers on writing using active language, avoiding lesser-known but serious grammar mistakes (such as the misuse of the Oxford comma or ending a sentence with a preposition), and ensuring the article is punchy, balanced, and informative.
While it is acceptable to ask how long it usually takes to publish a bylined article, be aware that the editor or team will push it out when they want and not when you want. This can include weekends, times that are great for the publication but not so good for you (thanks to significant time zone differences, for example), and postponing it for days thanks to big industry news, which will always take priority.
Typically, the OpEd editor or team will let you know when it is live and send you the URL. If that doesn’t happen, it’s good to have Google Alerts set up to inform you via email “as it happens” whenever your name is mentioned. When working with a PR agency, it will likely use social media and web result monitoring tools to receive and pass on instant notifications of your success.
Whether the outlet tells you of the circulation of your guest article or not, as soon as it is live, you need to do two things. Firstly, thank them (but not in a cheesy way - you’re building a relationship that could see you offering OpEd articles regularly, so talk to them like a human), and then promote it like crazy. Push it on all your social media, using links and screenshots to make it as visual as possible, and do the same with your company’s social networks. Include it in your newsletter, and if you have a blog on your website, include an excerpt and link to the full article. Don’t publish it in full on your site, though. That’s a surefire way to massively reduce the authority and thought leadership position having your byline in a major publication will offer.
Remember that having one guest piece published with your byline is not enough to build your reputation. If you want to achieve your “I’m the leading expert in this” goals, the process should be repeated regularly and combined with other media and social networks.
An excellent guest article (or series of them) can, for example, lead to an appearance on broadcast media as an expert in your particular field. The process is pretty much the same regardless of targeting print, online, or broadcast media outlets. And as you continue to succeed in having your knowledge, expertise, and insights published or broadcasted, the more likely it is that you’ll get noticed by the most prominent outlets and conference organizers that may invite you to speak on stage and online.
Follow these guidelines closely, especially the “don’ts,” and the thought leadership world will be your oyster. Here’s to seeing your name in lights soon.