How can you remain in the public eye and in front of potential investors, customers, and hires when you don’t have specific news to announce? One way is by sharing a bylined article, contributed post, or op-ed.
Whatever you call them, these are simply articles you write, pitch, and place in third-party publications as a way to establish credibility and speak to key audiences as part of a comprehensive public relations strategy for any startup.
A strong contributed article either shares a unique perspective on a key topic in your industry, comments on current market trends, and/or delivers a strong opinion backed by reputable data.
I’ll share a few best practices that can help founders pitch and land their articles in publications relevant to their industries.
Select a topic and draft your story
Think about an area where you truly have subject matter expertise and an interesting and unique perspective. Are there any other founders in your industry whose writing you admire? Tap into why you trust their instincts and where their voices appear.
A solid article topic will offer valuable advice and communicate a unique perspective. It can mention your company as part of the matrix of an industry, but it can’t be self-promotional.
Choose your target publication
Think about the most relevant publications in your industry and research whether they accept contributed content. This information will usually be listed on their websites as “contributor guidelines.” If they do accept contributed content, they likely have specific editors who handle it, so make note. These publications could cover your vertical specifically or technology and startups broadly. Decide on three publications and editors you will pitch based on your article idea.
Review each publication’s contributor guidelines
Contributor guidelines also include details such as ideal wordcount. Some outlets might require 600 words minimum or have a 1,200 word maximum. Some require data, and others may be more focused on big ideas.
Some publications specifically ask for a pitch first, such as Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review, while others prefer a complete article draft up front, such as Fast Company, TechCrunch, CrunchBase News, and VentureBeat.
Craft and nail your pitch
Once you have a short list of target publications, decide who you’re pitching first. Unlike when you’re publishing a press release over “the wire,” which shares your story with many news outlets simultaneously, you will want to email your contributed content pitch to only one publication at a time as an “exclusive.” Start with your top pick and if you don’t get a bite, or just don’t hear back after a reasonable amount of time, move on to the next.
Email subject line: Write an email subject line that communicates a catchy title for your article.
Greeting: Address the editor by name in your email body and briefly state who you are.
Article abstract: Offer a three-to-five sentence summary explaining the thesis of your article. Indicate that it is original, unpublished work. Include the total word count of your article too.
Establish your expertise: Include a 2-3 sentence bio for yourself and include a link to your LinkedIn profile to establish your credibility.
Draft of article: If you are pitching a complete article, which I recommend in most cases, copy and paste the entire draft directly into your email body. Avoid use of attachments so your email doesn’t end up in a spam folder.
Ask for feedback: Let the editor know that you’re open to edits and feedback so the story can be tailored to their audience. If an editor provides constructive feedback on a contributed article you’ve written, that means you are close to being published!
Long-term publishing relationships
While most publications will be happy to accept one-off content, building a relationship with a single editor or publication can take a lot of the pain out of pitching for you, and give the editors the peace of mind that they have a steady inflow of trusted content. For example, Forbes and Inc. Magazine ask writers to commit to regular columns, posting on a cadence of at least once per month.
Don’t let the idea of contributed content intimidate you. Try your hand at writing an article and pitching a byline, and see where it leads! And if you’re backed by True and ever need help or guidance, you know how to reach me.
Brooke Van Natta is head of PR at True. She advises early-stage startup founders on how to capture media attention, navigate media interviews, and amplify stories to key audiences. The beach in Santa Cruz is her happy place. Meet the whole team.