Whether you call them bylines, guest columns, contributed articles, opinion pieces, op-eds, these all refer to writing articles on behalf of an executive, typically for a publication (although such articles can also appear in some variation on a blog or as a LinkedIn post). For many Gravitate PR clients, opinion pieces are a cornerstone of many of our marketing communications programs, as a way to build visibility for executives, position them as having a unique and compelling perspective on a particular topic, and elicit dialogue based on the point-of-view expressed.
Over the years, as the media landscape has evolved and newsrooms have had less resources, it’s opened up more opportunities for opinion pieces from executives, academics and other industry leaders to be published.
At Gravitate, we’ve created our own list of tips and considerations for writing compelling bylines (which we’ve also created a training session on as part of our ongoing commitment to regular learning & development). Here are a few best practices to consider when writing bylines.
If you’re looking to secure a byline placement in a particular publication, it’s important to have a compelling pitch and perspective from the onset. Remember, bylines are not the place to be marketing a product or service. Rather, it’s about having a compelling perspective on a hot topic or trend. Ahead of pitching that publication, make sure to scour the site to see what bylines have been published in the past, and make note of any patterns that you’re seeing in what makes the cut.
Should a publication be interested in a byline from your executive, make sure to obtain the editorial guidelines, which are often posted on a publication’s website. An opinion piece in a publication like CNN, for example, is significantly different from tech publications VentureBeat and TechCrunch, as well as industry publications such as GCN (Government Computer News) and HR Dive.
While some bylines are not particularly long - some only ask as little as 500 words - it’s always helpful to have an outline in mind before drafting the full piece. What are the keywords that you’d like to insert, or what key messages do you want to incorporate into the copy? Moreover, as a rule of thumb, any contributed article should have a key argument, backed up by several well-thought-out points within the piece.
Sometimes these arguments could form particular tips (e.g. 5 ways to better engage your workforce). No matter the form of the byline (e.g. tips, how-to’s, agreement/disagreement with a particular topic, a future-looking piece), a strong, coherent and compelling point-of-view is vital to educate, inform and engage the reader.
Additionally, for any statement or claim in the article, it needs to be backed up by credible sources - such as research, data, or news articles. While a cybersecurity audience will tend to agree that the number of ransomware attacks have increased over the years, it’s still good to validate the extent of this increase as a way to then explain why organizations continue to struggle with this ongoing threat, for example. Again, this isn’t the forum to be providing links to the client’s technology or marketing materials as a veiled attempt to promote their offerings - publications tend to be incredibly critical of this and will likely remove or even reject a byline outright with this approach.
Finally, make sure that the writing is in a clear and accessible manner - and find ways, where possible, to inject personality into the piece. Bylines aren’t term papers or scientific articles for journals. Even articles on the most technical topics should keep readers engaged - and the most effective ways of doing this often revolve around anecdotes, personal experiences, and humor.
Ahead of a byline’s publication, it’s critical to make sure you know how you plan to maximize visibility and use of the article. You’ve done the hard work in writing a long-form piece of content, and it can always be used further across a variety of different ways and viewed across an array of channels.
For example, can the article be used as a core resource to create other types of assets - such as infographics, proactive media pitches, blog posts, or presentations? If it’s a tip-based article, for example, could each tip be expanded upon? From an amplification perspective, will this also be shared on the company’s social media posts, as well as from the executive who the article is attributed to?
While bylines can initially seem like a daunting undertaking at first, breaking down the steps can make the task easier, and certainly more fun. When done effectively, bylines bring visibility to a client’s thought leadership, build trust, and play a key role to help advance their reputation.