Editor’s Note: This post is a continuation of The Art of the Press Release, and comes from Conrad Egusa, CEO of Publicize and a 500 Startups Mentor specializing in media relations and PR. 

PR can be invaluable for startups — not only as a one-time bump in growth but also for long-term amplification of your good efforts.

In today’s post, Conrad talks about how startup can extend the PR halo beyond initial “buzz” and establish a foundation of thought leadership to influence customers and potential investors.

So your business doesn’t have an announcement but you’d still like some media coverage? Given the constant need to stand out from the host of other startups and businesses, it makes sense to promote your name and business as much as possible. After all, maintaining a public presence is an important factor of any successful business. But how can you make a media appearance when you haven’t got anything new to announce, or say?

As previously explained on the 500 Startups blog, good Public Relations – that is, PR – is all about honing in on a space and making it your own. Strong PR processes are upheld by two core pillars on which successful campaigns rely; announcements via press releases and guest articles. While we previously focused on press releases, it is important to recognize that PR is not just about announcing things. It is perfectly possible to build and maintain a credible public image by way of the second pillar of guest articles.

Guest articles help founders, CEOs and other business owners to become industry leaders in their own right. Establishing yourself as an authority on a given subject, or about a specific industry, is an excellent way of ensuring future press coverage and media attention later on.

But what’s the best way to write a guest article? And how can you ensure that you pitch it to the right publications?

How to Really Leverage Guest Articles

Guest articles serve as platforms to offer insight, opinions and advice, or even to weigh in on a current industry debate. As an example, if you have an accounting company, by authoring an article on where you see the accounting industry heading in the upcoming years, you position yourself as a thought leader in the space. You’ll also find that publications will be more likely to quote you in the future as your thoughts are online.

The scope of these articles are limited solely by your own knowledge, experience and, of course, your imagination.

Executed properly, guest articles draw attention to you and your business. They lay the foundations for solid social proof link – the means by which you build a strong reputation – and future media coverage. Being a known entity will help encourage media attention for later press releases and announcements.

True Thought Leadership

All guest articles need an original and interesting idea behind them in order to be successful – after all, nobody is going to read a re-hashed argument about something that has been discussed a hundred times already. This is what is known as thought-leadership. The aim of a guest article is to put forward your thoughts and opinions in an authoritative manner that establishes you and your business as a pioneer in your industry. As such, it is incredibly important to think about what you want to write and say; do your research beforehand.

Similarly, keep your article plan within your field of expertise. Sure, you might have a ton of opinions about who should be the next president of the United States but, if your expertise is about SaaS companies, no one is going to want to read them.

Remember to not be self-promotional as well. Think about what you know is happening in, or affecting, the industry that you work in. If you founded an accounting software startup, it would be too self-promotional to author an article about your company, however you can think about and discuss industry trends and/or problems, or what you have learned as a founder in this space, which will indirectly benefit your company.

If you don’t have any ideas for guest articles, we recommend starting by asking yourself these questions:

  • What are three things you’ve learned about your industry that you hadn’t known when you’d first started?

  • If you could give your best friend advice for your company’s industry, what would it be?

  • Which 3-5 trends do you see impacting your industry in the upcoming years?

An example topic for Entrepreneur Magazine is below:

 

Target for Publishing

Next you need to think about which publications you ultimately want this article to be published on. A scatter gun approach is not going to work here, and you won’t be able to have it published by more than one publication. In targeting your article, be realistic: if you’re company focus is a niche topic, it probably won’t be accepted on bigger or more mainstream publications. Most publications follow specific formats and look for certain lengths as well.

When targeting these publications think about your and their target audience. Are they compatible? If not, find a publication that is more closely aligned to the theme you are writing about. For example, if you are writing about advice for founders, pitch to a publication such as Entrepreneur Magazine. Don’t waste precious time chasing titles based on their name or size if they have nothing to do with your sector.

Send “On Spec”

Once you know what you want for your article, it’s time to start writing. It’s important to send a finished article to editors, not a draft, or an introductory email asking if you can write one. This is known as sending an article ‘on spec’. This means sending a full and completed article for editors or journalists to read and assess. I repeat, this does not mean sending a draft for feedback.

The people you end up pitching to do not have a lot of time, so don’t waste precious interactions by clumsily introducing yourself, or your idea.

A mistake first-time founders make is first writing to an editor with only an article idea, and then not receiving any responses back. You can pitch only article ideas down the road once you’ve established a relationship with an editor, but for your first article it is important to have it finished. Finish your article completely, then send it to potential publications. Which leads on to…

…Pitching

Pitching a guest article is different to pitching a press release. As previously mentioned, you will only be able to publish your guest article on one publication. If you send it to more than one and they both publish, prepare to be blacklisted for future articles.

In pitching the article, make sure to provide editors with a rundown of the argument and an introduction as to the background and expertise of the author. Do your homework and double check that the publications you reach out to have a track record of publishing guest articles and that your article is written in their house style.

Below is the email we sent to TechCrunch to ask if they would publish our guest article.

 

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”

The old adage is true – by adding a photo of you and/or your team, you provide another layer for your audience to identify with. There are countless unidentifiable entrepreneurs and CEOs out there who could increase public awareness of their profile by publishing photos of themselves and their companies alongside their articles.

Images and videos are more powerful mediums of communication than text; using them alongside guest articles will only serve to boost the impression you are make to potential customers and investors.

With the proliferation of smartphones and other devices it has never been easier to take your videos or photos of you and your team. Still, if you want the ultimate professional touch, hire a photographer to take some photos of you and your team.

Sharing and Content Distribution

Like with successful press release pitches and the resulting news stories, once your guest article is published you need to share it far and wide. Social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook are great platforms to promote your newly published piece but you should also email your article to investors, clients and employees to further engagement. If you have a company blog, you can also post a link to your guest article there, ensuring that anyone visiting your website will also have a chance to see it.

Once your article is online we also recommend re-posting it on platforms such as Medium.com and LinkedIn. It is important to first publish the article on the publication, as a site will likely not publish your work if it knows it had earlier been published elsewhere.

Conrad Egusa is the CEO of Publicize and is a Mentor at 500 Startups, specializing in PR and the media. He periodically contributes to publications including TechCrunch and Forbes. Conrad was earlier a writer for VentureBeat, and prior to this founded an angel-investor backed startup in Silicon Valley.