Writing as a Thought Leadership Strategy
How can I possibly find time to write articles, you may ask? I’m so busy with my role as an HR professional–who has time for writing articles? However, if you knew that by writing articles you could advance your career, generate new connections, earn additional credibility, and possibly even prepare for a career as a consultant, wouldn’t it be worth it? By writing articles I’ve been able to accomplish these goals, and create enough interest that 100% of my business is generated through leads from writing and from repeat and referral business.
Your first goal in writing is to establish your own personal purpose: is it to create new interest in a topic, be controversial, or make the media pick up the phone to call you? By identifying your key objective, you’ll be more likely to achieve that goal.
Developing the Topic
Where do you begin in picking the best topic? How do you narrow your scope? Consider these avenues for topic development:
- The topic on which you normally speak. Since the area on which you speak is typically an area of strength and expertise, why not develop an article on this issue? Chances are that you have been reading, researching, and working with clients to solve problems in this area, and can provide information that is timely and “real world” oriented. If you would like to continue to work in this area, writing an article on a related topic will strengthen your position and credibility in this arena.
- Trends in your area of expertise. What trends do you see in your work? What issues are evolving? What do your colleagues call you about to ask for your expertise? These are no doubt excellent topics for a timely article.
- Controversies in your area of expertise. Do you hold a position that is controversial? Do you speak on an issue that is hotly debated? This topic may also be of interest to readers.
- New legislature. New laws, regulations, and rulings and interpretations provide an excellent source of article material.
Narrowing the Scope of Your Article
Now that you’ve selected the topic, you must narrow the scope of your article. Consider these guidelines for defining the specific issue and treatment:
- Focus on one element of the topic
- How to’s for implementation
- Steps and procedures
- Pros and cons, particularly for controversial issues
- Key ideas, tips, and guidelines for specific activities
- Analogy/metaphor articles
For example, as an HR leader, I’ve provided consultation services on strategic recruitment and have written articles on the following aspects of recruitment:
- Recruiting key labor market segments (both on targeting techniques, as well as specifics of recruiting labor market segments such as older workers)
- How to conduct some recruitment activity (such as how to conduct a recruitment event, such as an open house or career fair)
- Steps or procedures in tracking or planning for recruitment
- Pros and cons of various recruitment approaches, including more controversial activities, such as telemarketing
- Key ideas, tips, or guidelines in implementing specific activities
- An analogy of how recruitment is like marketing and sales
Developing Media Contacts For Writing Articles
Now that you have an idea of your topic and its treatment, you must decide where you will send your article for possible publication. You may even want to do this before you begin to write, since all publications have a unique format, content, and writing style.
To begin your data base for media contacts, consider the following action strategies:
- Collect and read publications in your field of expertise. Be sure to note the publication’s address and other contact information. Note the writing style, length of articles, and other issues. Consider the audience. Write to the publication to request writer’s guidelines for submission, as well as a publication schedule indicating deadlines as well as emphasis for certain publications (for example, HRMagazine regularly has an issue with a focus on recruitment).
- Meet contacts at trade fairs and exhibits. Look for magazine, newsletter, and journals exhibiting at conventions and trade fairs. On off-peak hours (when the show is slow and the exhibitors are not busy speaking with potential customers) approach the booth to determine if they are looking for authors (most are), and request additional information (get a copy of the publication, the business card and writer’s guidelines). For example, I have found the Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference Exhibition to be an excellent resource for identifying potential magazines within my field, and as a result, have had articles published by many magazines.
- Seek out editors and reporters at conferences when you speak. In my first year in business, I spoke at an industry human resources conference, and at dinner, exchanged business cards with the gentleman sitting to my left. I learned that he was an editor for their monthly newsletter, and asked him if he was looking for writers/columnists. He said yes, and for over six years I wrote a regular column for this publication, gaining me added visibility and credibility.
- Accept media interviews. When speaking at association conferences and workshop programs, make yourself available to editors and writers. Not only can this provide you with great quotes in prominent publications, but can open the door to writing for this publication.
You’ve done your homework: now you’re ready to write the article. What are the considerations to review as you begin? Some recommendations:
- Refer to the guidelines supplied by the publication. Generally, double-spaced, clean, legible copy is desired, although increasingly, providing articles on disk or via electronic media is requested.
- I’ve found that my articles stand a better chance of getting published if the article is well-organized and presented in manageable, bit-sized pieces. Editors tend to like headings, key points, bullets, and numbered points to break up the article, making it appealing to the busy reader (and what reader isn’t?).
- Your article should reflect the real-world, and not an academic or rhetorical approach (unless you are writing for that kind of journal). When I first began writing, I was concerned that my writing wasn’t formal or “academic” enough, but was quickly reassured by my editors that most publications and therefore most readers wanted real-world approaches in conversational language.
- Provide success stories, examples, and cases. Use your experiences as a speaker and consultant to illuminate your key points, and provide enough detail to make the story come alive for your reader. A longer success story or case example might be appropriate as a side-bar.
- Write to the pain of your audience. What are the concerns and issues that cause your readers pain? Outline areas that may be alarming or painful to your reader, and provide ideas and recommendations for addressing their concerns.
You’re Published . . . Now What?
Once the article is published, do you sit back on your laurels and wait for the phone to ring? Savvy speakers will leverage the publication of an article in these ways:
- Mail a reprinted article to clients and prospects with a note
- Use reprints in your media kit/prospect information package
- Mention publication of your articles in your client mailings and newsletters
- Refer to the article on your web page, and provide a sample of the article
- Provide reprints as part of your handouts for keynotes, training sessions, and presentations
- Write another version of the article for another industry (for example, an article written on recruiting for the hospitality industry can be rewritten, using key industry examples, for the retail or healthcare industry)
- Write companion articles that could be put together in a special report, which could be provided as a marketing tool, or sold as a product offering
- Write companion articles that could become chapters in a book (this is one of the most painless methods of writing a book)
Writing articles can be an excellent way to remind others of your knowledge and expertise in the field. By writing articles in your areas of strength, you can build your business by gaining clients and new business as well as establishing your thought leadership.
Writer’s Note: And who knows . . . I might even get some business from this article, too!
Cathy Fyock, CSP, SPHR, is The Business Book Strategist, and works with professionals who want to write as a career growth strategy. She can be reached at email@example.com and at 502-445-6539.