Finding Your Edge in Bylined and Sponsored Content
We are huge fans of using bylined articles and sponsored content to amplify your thought leadership. These mediums allow financial services firms to tap into a valuable audience that a publication has already done the hard work of nurturing. And considering how specialized many publications are, earning (or purchasing) placement in a magazine or trade rag enables you to engage with a group of highly interested, highly relevant readers. Bylined articles and sponsored content are great ways to augment your thought leadership efforts through your owned channels.
The problem is that most sponsored content and bylined pieces simply aren’t done very well. They tend to reek of corporate-speak and brand messaging, and from an editorial perspective, they often stand out starkly from the rest of the publication from an editorial perspective. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
When we create bylined articles and sponsored content for clients, our focus is to create pieces that actually feel more relevant—and more seamless—with the publications we are writing for. Here are ways we do this.
Write from a news perspective rather than a marketing perspective.
Readers turn to publications seeking and expecting news, not marketing pitches. Don’t approach a bylined article or sponsored piece as a marketing opportunity or a chance to talk about your brand. Instead, approach this more as an opportunity to weigh in and provide a new perspective on a topic that is relevant and interesting to the publication’s readership.
Start by asking yourself, “What is the most provocative or interesting thing I have to say about this topic?” Think about the key misconceptions in the marketplace and address those head-on. Don’t waste time retreading ground that everyone already agrees on or is already well-covered. Instead, focus on the things that are going to move the conversation forward and get people to raise questions and think differently.
With any form of thought leadership, it is important to advance the conversation. But with sponsored content and bylined articles, you need to be laser-focused on moving the ball forward and getting straight into the most interesting points. Remember, your goal is to make the article feel like news, not a marketing piece.
Avoid highly polished corporate-speak and brand messaging.
Too often, polished corporate-speak and brand messaging seem to take over in thought leadership. This type of language—when used in extreme moderation—can be acceptable on your company’s website. But it should be avoided in sponsored content or bylined articles. If you use jargony brand messaging in a publication, readers will be able to sense it immediately. In addition to losing the reader’s attention, your firm will instantly lose credibility. Instead, use a more conversational, more direct voice in these channels.
Review other articles in the publication to get a sense for the voice of the publication. This will help you to be more conversational and improve your chances of engaging the audience.
Don’t simply truncate an existing piece to fit a publication’s required word count.
It may be tempting to take an existing white paper that you have written for your owned channels and simply truncate it to fit the word-count requirements of a publication. There are obvious benefits to this from a convenience perspective. But this lazy approach runs the risk of telling a disjointed story or sounding like an obvious marketing pitch.
Rather than simply copying and pasting until you reach the word count, treat this bylined article or sponsored content as a new article and a different target audience. But rather than needing to start from scratch by conducting a new round of subject-matter expert (SME) interviews, you can treat the existing white paper as your SME.
Find the publication’s style guide and comply with it.
When you submit your bylined piece to a publication, the editor will most likely adapt it to fit their style guidelines on the back end. But you want to make it as easy as possible for an editor. Why does this matter? Because the easier you are to work with, the more likely they are to invite you to write for them again.
To lighten the editor’s load, do what you can to understand the publication’s style and incorporate it into your writing—both from a voice perspective as well as a punctuation and grammar perspective. You can get those style guidelines from the editor; in the vast majority of cases, the editor will be more than happy to provide it. Again, your goal is to make the draft you submit as close to plug-and-play for the editor as possible.
Avoid using a collective, faceless corporate voice.
When creating sponsored content and bylined articles, you should avoid writing in a collective corporate voice that attributes authorship to your company. If you do, it will be unclear to the reader who is talking—the message will simply be coming from the corporate mothership. This will feel watered down and insincere. Don’t hide behind a corporate shield; readers want to know who is speaking to them.
There are two options: write the piece in the first person and attribute it to one author, or write it in the third person (the traditional news approach) and include direct quotes from your firm’s SMEs. But don’t use the voice of the entire company, or you will lose credibility.
We love bylined articles and sponsored content. They are great ways to amplify your efforts through your owned channels. But these pieces require time and effort to be done well. If your piece sticks out like a sore thumb and looks like a glorified advertisement, no one will want to read it. All of the time, energy, and resources you invested to get the piece placed will be wasted—and you may lose credibility with a captive and valuable audience.
If you would like to chat about your own strategy for bylined articles and sponsored content, please contact us.
About the Author Scott Wentworth is the CEO at Wentworth Financial Communications. He collaborates with a team of writers and editors at Wentworth to help professionals across the financial services industry build their brands by creating investment-grade white papers, bylined articles, newsletters, blogs, social media posts, and other forms of content marketing.