Three Tips For Running a Better Contributed Article Program
COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on a number of industries, and media is no exception. With forced budget cuts, many publications are even more interested in receiving contributed articles from subject matter experts (SMEs). At the same time, many organizations are interested in writing and placing these articles for thought leadership, improved search engine optimization (SEO) and as part of their overall B2B content marketing strategy. Great, that’s where the PR professional come in. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Clients want to see a regular cadence of articles published in relevant industry publications (so they can plan out their marketing activities), but outlets often march to the beat of their own drum and hate constantly being spammed with follow up. So how can you, as the PR middle-person, strike a balance that pleases both?
The answer? Build out a content calendar and a regular, efficient process for drafting and submitting contributed articles. This streamlines the process and helps ensure a steady stream of published content that meets the needs of clients, while still stacking the queue enough that you aren’t constantly hounding press. Here are three tips to get you started:
Work on Multiple Articles at the Same Time
You can’t control when a publication will publish your contributed articles. But you can control how quickly it’s pitched and drafted and how many you have in play at a given time. Create a process for pitching and drafting so that you have multiple articles in process at once. If one article is delayed, you can focus on another. Work to have different articles at different stages of the process at the same time. For example, if you have 1-2 articles submitted to their respective editors, 1-2 being drafted and 1-2 that you’re pitching, this might be a great foundation to ensure you get 2 published each month. By the time the articles you submitted have published, you’ll have finished the 1-2 in process and can start submitting. This will lead to articles being published in a regular cadence. If all of your articles are being drafted at the same time, there will be a long dry patch with no coverage while you try to move them through the process, which you want to avoid. Don’t wait to pitch a new batch of articles until you finish the last ones – you want them to overlap.
Work Off of a Calendar
Create a calendar working backwards from the target dates you want articles to publish (and be sure to understand the realistic timeline from a publication). Assume two weeks for drafting and internal reviews of the article with your client; 1-2 weeks to place it with a publication (which can be done before you start drafting or in tandem if you’re confident with the topic); and at least 2-3 weeks for editorial review by the outlet (unless they tell you otherwise).Here’s the schedule I follow:
- Last week of the month: Brainstorm new ideas for the next month’s contributed articles (or this is done quarterly; depending on access to SMEs).
- First week of the month: Draft pitches and send them out to target publications.
- Second week of the month: Continue pitching if needed to secure articles, otherwise start drafting as soon as they’re secured.
- Create internal deadlines so you submit articles to editors on a regular schedule. For example, if you are placing two articles a month, try to submit one by the 15th and one by the 30th.
- Be strategic about the publications you pitch. For example, if you’re trying to submit an article by the 15th and you know a particular publication moves fast, then pitch an easy-to-draft article you know you can turn around quickly.
- Third week of the month: Continue drafting articles, conduct review cycles with the client.
- If you haven’t placed an article by now, consider starting to draft one even if it doesn’t have a home yet (assuming budget allows you to do so). This will help keep the program moving along, and some publications are more likely to accept an article if you have a draft to show them. You may be able to pitch it at the end of the month, get it accepted, and keep on schedule!
- Final week of the month: Finish edits and submit articles.
- Article drafting and edit cycles with publications will usually spill over into the next month and that’s fine – just make sure you have multiple articles in process at the same time.
- Start over in the next month with a new batch of articles while tracking the ones you just submitted.
Drafting articles as efficiently as possible will help you stay on target. Here are some final considerations. Use whatever process works best for your specific SMEs. If they’re good writers, ask them to draft more articles. If they’re busy, offer to interview them and draft the article yourself. Think about how you can make the process as easy as possible for them – it’ll make things go faster in the long run.
Work with multiple SMEs (if possible) to spread the drafting and brainstorming work around. This makes it easier to work on multiple articles simultaneously and doesn’t bring your entire program to a halt if the SME has a busy week. You can also repurpose existing materials like white papers, case studies, eBooks and speaker presentations whenever possible. These can often be turned into a contributed article with less time and effort than writing from scratch.
Following these best practices will help your program produce more consistent results, make it easier to show value to clients, and make it simpler for them to fit contributed content into their overall marketing strategy.