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Who Should Get the Byline?

Whose names should appear atop an article or research report? This may seem like a minor issue, as inconsequential as choosing which charts or photos to use in a white paper. But it isn’t at all. In fact, handled poorly, it will dampen a firm’s best efforts to get its experts to contribute ideas. Handled well, it will help spur its most thoughtful professionals to offer up their ideas. In other words, it will help bring the best ideas to the table.

Over the years, I’ve seen three camps on the authorship question. The first believes bylines should go to those best able to sell the services implied in the content – the firm’s partners or business developers. The second camp feels bylines should go to the primary idea contributors. And the third views bylines as unessential; there should be no bylines at all. Their reasoning: What if the authors leave the firm? 

Who’s right? I argue that if you don’t follow the second camp – assigning authorship to the primary idea contributors – your thought leadership programs will be in trouble. Appropriating authorship to others tangentially involved in formulating the ideas, or giving no credit at all, will kill efforts to create a culture of thought leadership faster than anything. 

Imparting expertise is a voluntary exercise. Even if a professional is ordered to make time for someone in marketing to contribute to an article, she is not likely to give away her best ideas if she won’t get credit for them. And if she waxes on eloquently and then isn’t cited, she is not likely to do it again. A wellspring of expertise will go silent.

If business developers or partners’ names are pasted at the top of articles without having contributed much to the content, how will they be able to sell the expertise implied in those articles if they don’t possess it? When potential clients probe the knowledge of the salespeople and get a lot of “maybe’s,” “I don’t knows,” and “it depends,” I can’t imagine there being a second meeting. The experts need to be in the  room – the names on the top of the article. 

And if there are no bylines, then who should the prospects who are intrigued by the ideas reach out to? They want to talk to the real experts, not to a contact form. If fear of losing authors is the reason for no bylines, a firm has a bigger problem to solve: keeping its experts.

A firm’s authorship policy greatly affects its ability to compete on thought leadership. Giving credit where credit is due is not just intellectually important, it makes business sense.