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Has PR Writing Become the Death Knell of Bylines?

By Katie Vroom | On February 24, 2017

Earlier today I came across this TechCrunch article: Rethinking contributors on TechCrunch, stating that the publication is changing the way it accepts contributed content. Moving forward, there will be no more pitching – industry experts hoping to place a byline article will need to be invited.

When explaining its reasoning for the shift, the company notes:

“Independent writers and respected industry investors and entrepreneurs have given us great (and insanely popular from a traffic standpoint) bits of wisdom…However, over time, we noticed that the pipeline for the network had gotten a bit overrun with pieces that we strongly suspected were ghost-written by PR or really had no business being given the platform. For every gem, there were increasingly a lot of rocks. Rather than sifting through an inbox of thousands of pitches looking for the diamond in the rough, our contributor network is going to go invite-only.”

There you have it. This got me thinking – has careless and overly promotional PR writing truly become the downfall of contributed content? And will other publications begin to follow TechCrunch’s lead?

TechCrunch is just the latest publication to up their standards for contributed content – think Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., and Entrepreneur contributor networks. Placing bylines for our clients is becoming increasingly difficult and unless PR professionals take a hard look at the content they are creating on behalf of their clients and reevaluate the newsworthiness of their submission, I believe we’ll absolutely see other media outlets begin to follow suit.

If we as PR writers can get back to the basics and create compelling content, hopefully we can nip this trend in the bud. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind to increase your chances of getting your article placed:

  1. Show you’ve got a track record of success: Prove to the editor that you have experience writing for high profile and respected publications. Send examples of past work that has been authored by your industry expert and accepted by these publications. This shows that you are capable of writing high caliber content that people will find valuable and that your client is a subject matter expert with expertise on a defined topic.
  2. Avoid jargon: Too often we read articles that are filled with industry specific terms and are riddled with jargon, clichés and buzzwords. Every industry has it’s own language – make sure to think about the language you are using and keep it clear, concise and to the point.
  3. Do your research: The more prominent the publication you are targeting, the more important this piece of advice is. News sources are seeking credible authors so the key to being published is to do your research – interview your clients for a deep dive on their perspective. It’s not enough to provide high-level, vague articles; the key is in the expert perspective and takeaways, which as PR people, we are often lacking. Also read other relevant news articles on similar topics, look at industry reports and compile as much background and context as possible before you start writing.
  4. Have something to say and then say it!: The best articles are the ones with a strong opinion. In order to become a valuable source of information, you need to understand the issues that are important to your target audience and then take a strong stance to answer their burning questions on that topic. Reading is key. Read everything you can get your hands on to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry. This will keep you informed on the issues that are likely to pique reader’s interest and with that understanding you will have a solid foundation to reference as you begin writing; without appearing disengaged from the conversation.
  5. Stop trying to sell: This is perhaps the most important tip of them all. Gone are the days where you could slip in veiled marketing plugs and self-promotion and expect the editor to overlook it. It’s time to think more like an op-ed rather than content marketing. Journalists, and more importantly, your readers, can see right through it and are tired of being sold to. If you want to deliver an engaging article – stop selling. Work on becoming a thought leader that guides the conversation, educating your readers with an interesting POV on a topic close to your heart. The rest will take care of itself.

Katie Vroom

Katie is a Senior Account Director at Affect with over 10 years of public relations experience. Her expertise includes the oversight and execution of strategic PR efforts for clients across a variety of industries including security, healthcare, financial services / fintech, transportation & logistics, IT and more. Katie is a media relations enthusiast who loves finding new ways to introduce her clients to relevant reporters and publications, increasing their share of voice and developing mutually beneficial relationships with reporters. As a Senior Account Director, she is responsible for setting PR strategy to help clients meet their business objectives and providing strategic counsel to ensure PR initiatives deliver consistent ROI. Prior to joining Affect, she worked at Brainerd Communicators in NYC, where she led PR activities for a professional services firm spanning multiple industries.