How to Write a Byline That Positions You as a ‘Thoughtful’ Leader



Posted: In: Blogs PR Education

I don’t mean to get meta, but I’m about to write a thought leadership post about thought leadership.

Contributed content is more accessible than ever as publishers democratize writing opportunities in exchange for traffic volume. In fact, so many C-suite executives have columns or are self-publishing articles that it’s changed the meaning of “thought leader” from what it originally implied. Now, it’s somewhat of an industry buzzword.

Buzz or no buzz, I fundamentally believe that powerful thought leadership isn’t dependent upon whether or not you have a column in that popular media outlet everyone wants to write for; It’s in actual, thoughtful leadership.

Are you thinking about your industry differently than your colleagues?

Are you predicting what’s next or laying the groundwork for more evolved thought?

How are you putting those forward-thinking best practices into play every day?

These are a few of the questions thoughtful leaders consider before they ever brainstorm a byline topic for that “thought leadership” article or column their PR team so diligently secured. It’s increasingly important to make sure that if you are writing these types of articles, you’re writing something that will actually surprise or inspire new avenues of thought.  

So how do you write bylines responsibly and in a way that actually adds value to your industry?

First, check yourself. (Have I said that before?)

Just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean you’re a thought leader. Being a thought leader is something deeper; It requires an intimate understanding of a certain subject matter and it’s often a long-term commitment. If you or your CEO writes a one-off piece, it very well could have a positive impact for you and your brand. But it doesn’t necessarily set the stage for long-term, trust-building thought leadership.

People who are invested in being effective thought leaders are doing so by publishing on a regular cadence, participating in speaking opportunities, and engaging in dialogue online so they are consistently echoing their points in everything they do. These efforts have a long-tail effect as opposed to pushing out an article just to be published.

Second, identify article topics that ladder back to your business objectives.

Because if you’re not, why do it? Writing something worth reading starts with two things: open-ended brainstorming with creative individuals who understand a company’s key objectives and laser-focused idea refinement.

Brainstorm at least 10 article ideas with a group (whether it’s your comms folks, on-staff writers, or maybe even your mom), then develop the strongest of those ideas until you have a concept that’s non-self-promotional, on-message, and catered to a few carefully selected publications that you either already have relationships with or accept contributed-content pitches.

Third, create a publication-specific abstract.

Once you have a solid article idea, it’s time to write an abstract. To do so, you first need a unique point of view on the topic you’re looking to explore that’s relevant to the publication you’re pitching.

This short article summary should include potential headlines, a paragraph describing the article’s overall concept, sources you may consider using (reports, data, etc.), and ideas for potential imagery, assuming the publication accepts imagery suggestions.

In addition to your abstract, you will need to share a bio that explains why you are qualified to write about the topic at hand and a high-resolution headshot. You’ll also want to include links to articles you’ve already written, may it be blog content, previously published bylines, or interviews with the press that embody what you have to share.

It’s sort of like the chicken or the egg: It’s tough to land contributed content if you haven’t written anything before and the more content you’ve published, the more likely you are to land new bylines… no one said it’s fair.

And if you already have a column lined up, discuss your article idea with your editor until you come to an agreement on a solid angle for the piece.

Now, put your pen to work.

Ideas for articles can strike like lightning. When this happens, I can write a solid piece in less than 20 minutes. But the majority of the time, this is not the case. (I wish it were!) Usually, I start with the concept then create an outline to organize my thoughts.

In this outline, I note sources or data I’ll want to reference. Then, I write the piece, insert links the reader may find useful, and brainstorm at least five headline or title options until I find one that properly portrays the topic and hooks attention.

Jeff Haden, columnist for Inc. Magazine is great at writing catchy headlines. Check out his headlines here for inspiration. Sometimes, I also use CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer tool for checking the likelihood that a headline will perform well.  

Before I submit a piece to one of my publishers, I have at least one or two of my communications or writing pros offer editing suggestions. I can’t emphasize how important it is to have an experienced editor of some sort on your team. They can help strip out what’s unimportant and ensure that the editors accepting your articles don’t have to spend much time cleaning up your work (which will make them like your contributed content way more).

Everyone who works in public relations and communications has a responsibility to add value to today’s media landscape. How will you and your PR team contribute to its betterment?

Thoughful Leader

That wraps up our Optimizing PR Fundamentals series! Hope you enjoyed it. Check out Rachel Kirschen’s post “How to Write an Email Your Customers Will Give a Crap About” from last week if you missed it.