Take a moment to consider the huge number of media and publishing outlets that are searching for content every day. By lowering the traditional barriers to entry for publishers and writers, the transition from print to digital media has cleared the way for a vast range of business publications – many of which cover unique niches that have been neglected in the past. At the same time, there are still plenty of general interest magazines that reach massive audiences, and they often find themselves under pressure to produce more content than ever before.
All of this means there’s a growing need for expertise. Whether you’re a C-suite executive, a marketing researcher, a data security expert, or someone else who has insider knowledge of a particular industry or field, there are probably a whole lot of editors who would be interested in what you have to say. But expertise isn’t everything – you also need to know what editors are looking for, how to package your proposal, how to make your point engaging and coherent, and how to present yourself as a thought leader.
#1: Leverage your background
Nobody wants to read an article by someone who doesn’t have a credible claim to expertise on the topic he or she is discussing. And even if you are knowledgeable about your subject, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good at explaining things in a clear and captivating way. This is why editors will often ask to see samples of your work – they need evidence that you can express your ideas in a lucid and compelling way. It’s also helpful to know other human beings have managed to get through your articles without falling asleep.
Every potential thought leader needs a collection of reference-able content, which I like to call the “content bank”. Whether it’s blog posts that demonstrate a keen awareness of issues and trends in your industry or articles published in other outlets, it’s essential to show editors how you write and what areas of expertise you’ve developed. While you’ll be able to demonstrate some of that in the article prospectus, published work is the best way to showcase your abilities and insights.
#2: Make sure your message is crystal clear
Whether you’re trying to get your work into a major business magazine or a publication with a narrow focus on a specific industry or field, it’s crucial to know exactly what you want to say and how your audience will benefit from your perspective. You have to keep your main thesis in mind at all times and refer back to it frequently – nothing will lose readers’ interest more quickly than endless digressions that make them ask, “Wait, what does that have to do with anything?”
Let’s say you’re a marketing professional working on a thought leadership piece. You never want to write something generic about, say, “how the Internet has changed marketing.” You’ll just end up wandering aimlessly from topic to topic like some blathering drunk at closing time. Instead, consider a narrower topic under the same umbrella, like how artificial intelligence (AI) is allowing marketers to interpret more data and how their marketing strategies should change as a result. This will give your readers a precise and digestible argument to consider.
#3: Don’t be self-promotional
Is there anything more annoying than people who constantly trumpet their own achievements and remind you of all the awesome things they’ve done? Readers will feel the same way if your article reads like a thinly veiled advertisement for your brand or company. While the things you’ve accomplished at your company is often what makes you an authority on a certain subject, it’s essential to discuss that subject without bombarding your readers with information about your latest products, services, and promotional offerings.
This doesn’t just put people off – it also undermines your credibility and limits your readership. If it’s clear you’re only writing as a mouthpiece for your company, readers will suspect you’re distorting the facts to produce a narrative that will help your bottom line. And they won’t view your argument as something widely applicable across businesses and industries, as it will be tailored to advance one company’s narrow interests. The last thing you want to do is frustrate your readers and make them question your motives.
#4: Cite your personal experience carefully
In some ways, this is an extension of rule number three. Although your professional experiences give you a valuable perspective on new technologies, industry trends, or whatever you happen to be writing about, they need to be referenced carefully.
For example, if a chief technology officer writes something like, “As I know from leading a team that produces the world’s best marketing technology solutions,” she’ll run into the same problem with reader trust and credibility that I mentioned above.
However, if she says, “In my experience, it’s easy to integrate AI with a medium-sized marketing team,” she isn’t making a qualitative judgment about her own company. She’s just explaining what she has witnessed as a CTO, which can be illuminating for a wide range of people at different companies. Your professional background is of the reasons publications will be interested in hearing what you have to say, but you always have to back up personal reflections with data and sound arguments.
#5: Ultimately, be a leader not follower
How often do you start reading an article only to realize that it’s a slightly reworded version of an argument you’ve already heard a thousand times? What may be even more annoying than the people who never stop touting their achievements are the people who tell the same stories over and over again. This is why you always want to be wary of vague, evergreen articles like “How the Internet has changed X” or “Three businesses that have changed the digital economy.”
It’s not that these articles will invariably be boring and redundant – there are unique ways to revisit perennial issues. But many versions of the aforementioned articles have already been written, and you need to be absolutely certain you won’t be retreading familiar ground before you get to work.
We’re witnessing dramatic shifts that affect a diverse range of sectors – from the integration of AI to changes in attitudes toward data security to the increasing desire for engagement and personalization among consumers. With so much fascinating stuff going on, there’s plenty of opportunity and reasons to write derivative articles that move the conversation forward.
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