“Say what you need to say.” – John Mayer and Taylor Jolley
Call it lingering trust issues or an innate desire for control – I don’t like relinquishing a narrative. This creates a pit in my stomach as I wait for an article to publish featuring one of my clients. Interviews are an excellent way to relay a message, but beyond the direct quotes you provide, the overall message of the article is out of your hands. Yes, you can prepare talking points, provide research and effectively tell a story in a way that generally creates a positive placement. But hedging with the word “generally” gives me pause enough to consider a different pathway diverging in the proverbial media forest: submitting a column.
What is a submitted column?
A submitted column is a free media placement that is authored by a person in the community and not a reporter. Generally, they provide an expert’s perspective on a timely or local topic in a way that a journalist can’t in a news article. Reporters are tasked with stating facts and providing critical information to help build public understanding of situations or events they can’t attend themselves, and columnists can help expand upon the story by adding a local leader’s perspective on decisions made. It’s easy to understand through an example. Think of your local city council – you’re probably a working professional who can’t often attend a midday, midweek convening of elected officials. But what they cover matters to your business, so you follow the local city government reporter to learn the highlights of what happened. Once you realize the implications of a new ordinance on small business owners, you could author and submit a column that expresses your perspective and demonstrates your expertise.
When is a submitted column a good option?
Submitted columns are reflective, timely and require a unique perspective. As a business leader, there are hundreds of topics you could speak to as an expert. But unless those topics are timely, and unless you can add an unheard viewpoint to the ongoing conversation, it’s better to save yourself time and wait for the right opportunity. Maybe you’re the head of a recruiting firm that’s found great success in using AI to recruit candidates via LinkedIn in your local market – that would be a great column to knock out this week. An outlet may be less interested in your perspective on the “return to work” challenges we’ve all been talking about since, well, we left work in 2020.
What are the drawbacks of a submitted column?
If you love to control stories and still garner media coverage for your organization, you might be thinking, “Let’s ditch regular pitching and just submit columns.” Depending on the day, I may hesitate to disagree with you. But no PR tactic is perfect for every situation, and submitting a column does have its drawbacks. First, a submitted column requires work on the front end. Depending on the outlet you’re approaching and your media strategy, you may be writing the column before you even connect with the outlet. That means there’s a chance you put time and energy into a piece that doesn’t hit the press. In my opinion, this loss can be mitigated by using the piece for your internal channels – the content still matters, but it just might not be a good fit for your target outlet at the time you submit it. Also, submitted columns are clearly marked as opinion pieces. This doesn’t make them less credible, but savvy readers understand that you’re writing in a way that promotes your business and may take them less seriously than they would an article. Finally, opinion pieces are also often grouped in printed publications or on websites with other submitted pieces. If you’ve sat around a dinner table recently, then you know people are chock full of opinions and eager to share them. Your column could be placed next to the business equivalent of Aunt Jane’s political tirade at the Thanksgiving table. Again, that doesn’t necessarily hurt your credibility, but there is always the chance of a little guilt by association.
Where do I start if I’m not a writer?
Engineers, accountants and all other non-creative professional leaders – fear not. You don’t have to grab a steno pad and sneak through the streets like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in All the President’s Men. A simple 20-minute coffee shop meeting with a PR professional (like yours truly) is all you need to do to get rolling on your next column. With your expertise in my notepad, I can shape your thoughts into a column you’ll be proud to claim. And if you don’t have a PR firm, well, what are you waiting for? You’re on our website, and that’s a great first step. Fill out the form below to take your second one: