Rule #4: Online Columns are a Potent New Channel

This post is the fourth in a series about the six new rules of thought leadership marketing. Today, Rule #4: Online columns have become a potent new channel.

online columnsIncreasingly, the online editors of the leading business publications are opening up their digital editions’ editorial space to outsiders—for free. (Of course, business marketers for a long time have been able to buy “advertorial” space in these publications, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.) As a result, articles in leading publications are no longer the preserve of a very few pundits who beat out the multitudes of would-be writers because of the scarcity of space. Many more top-notch publications that are highly read by your customers will take your content in their online editions.  

This is a far cry from the past. It used to be that an outsider’s chances of getting an opinion article in a top business or trade publication was remote. The chances of getting an unsolicited op-ed in The New York Times are not much better than 1%; for Harvard Business Review, they are similar. This high rejection rate may be one reason why self-published business white papers have become a cottage industry: It is the outlet of last resort.

But not anymore, at least not online. Opportunities for guest contributions at quality online publications have proliferated. What has not changed, for respected titles such as Forbes.com and BusinessWeek.com, is their need for quality. As Fred Allen, the Leadership editor of Forbes.com recently explained to us in an interview, he will run as much material as he can, provided it has something interesting to say, and is entertaining and provocative.

For thought leadership marketers, this presents a great opportunity to increase readership of their material. They can carve out an article submission from an underlying point of view and as Allen described, focusing it on a recent event in the marketplace may increase the chances of getting accepted.

The deeper the point of view, the more articles can be spun out of it. For example, from a single point of view (and white paper)  based on extensive primary research, the consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates last year placed four op-eds authored by its retailing consultants in leading publications: Forbes.com, BusinessWeek.com, and two in a leading retail publication, Chain Store Age. IT services firm Unisys carved out five white papers from a study it launched in 2005 on the topic of technology support in large organizations, including one in the vaunted journal Sloan Management Review, two in CIO.com, one in Computerworld.com and one in IndustryWeek.com.

This is not unusual, even for firms with tiny marketing budgets. A white paper published by the management consulting firm Quantum Performance Inc. has generated six Quantum-bylined op-eds in key target publications, including one in each of Forbes.com, HR Executive and Workforce Management

By the way, the online editions of these publications are often better places to appear than the offline ones. The online readership of many leading business publications today is a multiple of their print readership.

PRint versus Online

Readership of Popular Business Publications: Print vs. Online

The new channels we are talking about – influencers and quality online publications – are not ones that a marketer can control. That’s why readers view them as more credible and marketers that can capitalize on them are likely to get a much greater response. Ironically, they may spend a lot less to secure these ‘unbiased’ channels than they’d have to pay to secure the ‘biased’ ones: white paper syndicators, email list brokers, and so on. In fact, the major cost in working the unbiased channels is time: pitching content to bloggers, posting informative comments in social networking sites, writing and submitting op-eds to online publications. 

However, getting prospects to gravitate to your thought leadership requires great content. Marketers with lackluster material will be forced to continue the direct distribution methods of the past, which means their articles will open fewer and fewer doors in a world where buyers are moving from biased to unbiased channels.

In the next post I'll cover Rule #5; how generating sustained traffic has become more important than capturing downloads.

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