Contributed articles bylined by a key executive are part of any PR program that emphasizes thought leadership. Bylined content helps establish a B2B executive as an industry expert or brand voice, and it’s also a strong way to boost SEO for an individual or company. But a byline program takes preparation, focus, and an ongoing commitment to high-quality content.
How to prep and pitch a byline
A bylined article isn’t a one-time thing; it should be part of a content calendar included in a broader expert visibility program. Within a thought leadership campaign, B2B bylines should offer value to the reader. This typically comes in the form of expertise unique to your executive, company, or industry. Some will be service pieces that offer tips or tools. Others may share insight about category trends or offer an informed opinion about a burning industry issue. A short-lead byline can even newsjack headlines. If a factory robot goes rogue and storms off the assembly line, and you have a robotics client, you’ll have expertise to share. The trick is to jump on the opportunity before it becomes stale, or to turn it into a commentary on an industry problem or trend.
Research current news and trends
A good PR team will be fully familiar with relevant issues and prevailing opinions so they can offer fresh, relevant content. If everyone’s already talking about artificial intelligence and customer service, for example, a good byline will address a newer industry frontier, or weigh in on the impact of customer service bots on the consumer relationship. For more technical material, the team may need a “mind dump” from the subject-matter expert, or they may choose to tap a technical writer. But beware of getting too arcane. When it comes to technology, less is often more, and broader trends, insights, or predictions for the future are usually more compelling than technical explanations.
Make the pitch short and authoritative
For longer B2B bylines, a detailed outline may be necessary, but often a short email pitching the topic and author will do. The note should show familiarity with the editorial guidelines of the targeted publications as well as the author’s clear expertise. The basic format includes a 2-3-paragraph introduction, followed by a sentence that explains what to expect from the piece. Some bylines will need to conform to a publication’s word-count requirement, so any outline should be flexible. To avoid problems and for the sake of transparency, only one publication at a time should be offered an executive byline.
Find a distinct voice
Different publications will ask for various types of content, from an entrepreneur’s firsthand story to an advice piece or forecast. The executive bylining the piece should be writing about an area where he has clear expertise and a distinct point of view. But at the same time, he’s a human being with a story, so a little personality can go a long way.
Make the reader’s job easy
The writing should move smoothly, so keep sentences short and snappy. Especially in the high-tech area, long meandering phrases loaded with jargon can make a reader move on to cat videos. Try to inject a little breezy informality to articles – in accordance with the publication’s audience. Emphasize active over passive voice. Use short, strong words instead of lots of adjectives, and cut weak or extraneous words from your copy. We like this list of “flabby” or extra words and phrases that weaken most bylined content.
Back up an expert’s assertions with a few statistics where relevant, or offer a visual to illustrate key points. Be sure to attribute all information you get from other sources. It’s perfectly fine (often helpful, actually) to borrow information from experts to give your piece more heft. However, you must attribute anything and everything you get from other sources. Not doing so can get your client banned from a given publication.
Don’t be commercial
In general, a thought leadership piece is not an advertisement. Your expert shouldn’t be pushing a product or waxing on about how great his business is; rather he should offer advice, insight, or ideas based on specific expertise.
Pay attention to the headline
We like to add heads last because a piece can change a bit in the writing and editing process. Whatever the case, it pays to have a snappy, but search-friendly, headline. Even if it’s not clever, a title that offers a clear idea of what the piece covers usually beats an obscure title, a play on words, or a question.
The burden of proofing
Before submitting to an editor, make sure more than one set of eyes proofreads the piece. A writer will often miss small mistakes or typos in her own work.
Repurpose — with purpose
Once the bylined article is published, don’t forget to promote it on social channels. Additionally, a byline can often be adapted across other content platforms like the company website, as a blog post, made into a video, a LinkedIn Slideshare, or an ebook.
Of course, none of the above will matter if your company’s executive doesn’t have something to say! Don’t shy away from edgy or contrarian viewpoints. Strong opinions stimulate reporters and readers. Used in combination with other content like speeches, white papers, blogs, and business books, executive B2B bylines make powerful thought leadership assets. For a deeper dive into the PR tools for thought leadership, see our earlier post.