The journalism term “byline” first appeared in print with the publication of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises in 1926. Hemingway spelled it “by-line,” which makes sense; it denotes the line atop a newspaper or magazine article stating who the piece is “by” — the author.
Originally used to ensure accountability for mistakes in reporting, the byline over time has become one of the most sought-after status symbols among journalists — turning columnists into celebrities and investigative reporters into trusted community watchdogs.
Bylined articles, in other words, have a storied history. That's why when brands treat them as just another PR or SEO tactic, they are doing themselves a disservice.
Why Most Brands Do Bylined Articles Wrong
Many digital marketers consider bylined articles — also known as “guest posts” or "contributed articles"— the single most effective inbound marketing strategy. Done well, bylines establish thought leadership, provide third-party validation and improve search presence — all of which can increase trust in your brand.
The problem is, most bylined articles aren’t very good — and for this reason, they have little impact, or even a negative impact. A recent Edelman study showed that while nearly 90% of B2B decision-makers said thought leadership content affects brand perception, only 15% said they believed the bylined articles and other content they consume to be of high quality.
There are three reasons for this:
Most executives don’t have the time or ability to write compelling content, so they delegate it to ghostwriters who lack relevant experience or insight;
Most companies focus so much on pushing product messages or avoiding saying the wrong thing that they forget to write something that is actually enjoyable — rather than painful — to read; and
Most guest posts are written with SEO keywords and objectives, rather than true thought leadership, in mind.
When a bylined article strategy is conceived and executed for the wrong reasons, it generally leads to underwhelming results. That's certainly not what Ernest Hemingway had in mind.
How We Do Bylined Articles for Our Clients
Whether we call them bylines, contributed articles or guest posts, creating articles for third-party publications is one of Idea Grove's most valuable tools in building visibility and trust for our clients.
To unleash them, our first step is often to convince our client that they can, indeed, be a thought leader.
Many clients still think that thought leaders must be established authors with recognizable names like Seth Godin, “the godfather of marketing,” or Dave Ramsey, the best-selling multimillionaire with a wealth of financial knowledge. However, you don’t have to publish 17 books or build a fortune to be a thought leader. All you need is to discuss topics you’re passionate about and offer your unique perspective and knowledge to your target audience. This is what makes a thought leader.
Why the Byline Is Essential to Media Relations Programs
While proactively pitching the news media to secure interviews for a client might seem more exciting, bylined articles are just as important to achieving media relations program goals. This type of media exposure is essential to demonstrating the client's expertise as a source—both to the media and to the client's buyers.
When buyers and other audiences are conducting research online, they’re trying to keep up with trends and find unique ways to solve the problems their company may be facing. In the B2B technology market, for example, many companies are evaluating enterprise and SMB tools to better train, manage and motivate remote workforces. These decision-makers want to make sure they’re well-versed on industry trends so they won't make a purchase decision they'll later regret.
This is the perfect opportunity for client executives and subject matter experts to get their perspectives and advice in front of decision-makers. The key is to help them, not sell to them.
Developing a Message and Strategy for Your Bylined Articles
We keep a number of things in mind when developing a strategy for a client’s bylined articles. First, we carefully target messaging, audience and timing. It is important for us to understand the client’s marketing and business goals to determine what messages are of highest priority and most relevant in helping them achieve those goals.
Once we determine what a client is most interested in sharing and how that aligns with their larger objectives, we research the media outlets—from high-profile publications to niche influencer blogs—that cover similar topics and reach the most relevant audiences. We tailor messages to the key verticals the client serves to further expand this strategy.
Timing is an important consideration. For example, contributed content should be considered when planning product announcements. If coordinated far enough in advance, a bylined article that discusses the benefits of a certain type of technology and how it fits into industry trends could be published around the same time that a major product is announced. If the product announcement and the bylined article are aligned in messaging, this gives the client more credibility and helps to establish the product's value in an industry-wide context.
Regardless of whether or not a bylined article is tied to a product announcement, it should focus on larger industry trends rather than the product or brand itself. For example, if a client is adjusting their company vision to align with the direction their industry is headed, it would be a great opportunity to write an article discussing the overall movement in their market.
Checklist for Implementing a Bylined Article Program
Bylines can require a significant amount of time to plan, write and pitch to the media. Below is a checklist we follow when creating a byline program for a client:
Discuss messaging and important topics with the client
Plan to contribute on a regular basis
Identify key publications that cover the industry or top verticals and accept contributed articles
Use editorial calendars to determine important topics to which the client can speak
Determine the subject matter expert (SME) to whom the article can be attributed
Create an abstract for the byline topic and pitch to media before writing the full article
Share on social media once the article is published
Remember, being a thought leader can take time and requires a commitment to contributing articles regularly. But it is well worth the effort to stay relevant and be portrayed as an expert in the fast-paced worlds of technology and business.
Trust expert Scott Baradell is CEO and founder of Idea Grove. Idea Grove helps its clients secure trust at scale through its unique Grow With TRUST approach. Scott is an established authority on trust and editor of the online publication Trust Signals, as well as author of the upcoming book Trust Signals: Brand Building in a Post-Truth World. Idea Grove celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2020, earning honors including the 2020 Pegasus Award for Small Agency of the Year, being named a Top 200 B2B service provider by Clutch, and ranking in the top 25 tech agencies in the U.S. by O'Dwyer's. Scott has an Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the Public Relations Society of America and speaks on PR and marketing topics at industry events nationwide.