Pitching 102: Troubleshooting Placement for Thought Leadership Pieces
In our post Pitching 101: Or, Everything You Need to Know About Placing a Piece in Forbes, we went over the basic process of placing thought leadership pieces, like why it’s different from normal PR pitching and why it can sometimes take a really long time even if your piece is great.
In this follow-up post, we’re going to go a step further and talk about what can delay the placement process. They’re pitfalls familiar to every freelance writer and PR rep, and some of them we can’t do much about. Others, however, can sometimes be fixed with small tweaks to the article copy—read on to find out which are which.
Why isn’t my piece on the front page yet?
Editorial fit. News cycles and trends can change course quickly and without warning. One tweet from Donald Trump, and everyone is talking about nuclear war and North Korea instead of artificial intelligence and the environment. Or maybe the Techcrunch editorial team has decided they want October to be healthcare month. Sometimes editorial direction is planned and communicated so that those pitching know what the priorities are, but sometimes it is not at all transparent. We’ll always do our best to keep you informed about how and why editorial focus might be changing, but we can’t always know for sure.
Editors go AWOL. Editors go on vacation and take sick days just like everyone else. Unfortunately, that might mean a week or two of delay on hearing back about a pitch. Unless an article is very timely, it’s considered bad form to pitch another editor just because we got their colleague’s out of office autoreply—there’s not much to do but sit and wait. The good news is that sometimes, a thought leadership piece that has been sitting with an editor for a month is suddenly accepted—and when it runs, it’s heavily promoted.
Pieces end up in publishing purgatory. One or two times, this has happened to us: A thought leadership piece gets accepted by a publication, and we pop the champagne! But days and then weeks go by without any word from the editor on when it is actually going live. Repeated emails and calls yield nothing. After some time goes by, there’s nothing to do but let them know we’re withdrawing the article and start pitching all over again. What happened to the article that editor loved so much? Sometimes editorial direction has changed. Sometimes publications reorganize and someone has gotten moved off a beat.
The piece just isn’t sticking. Maybe it’s the angle or the timing or a butterfly that flapped its wings in Japan, but sometimes editors just don’t respond to the piece as we’d hoped. Getting a few rejections is usually a good thing—it shows editors are actually taking the time to read it and consider it seriously. But too many rejections—or a dozen editors’ worth of radio silence—might be a sign that the article itself needs a refresh.
What we can do
We can’t control editors’ vacation schedules or publishing calendars. However, there are some simple changes we can make to polish up a thought leadership piece that hasn’t been catching editors’ eyes. Here’s what we at Hippo do when we feel like a piece we love isn’t placing and want to give it a little boost.
Zero in on a target audience. Most publications target a specific audience, whether they be CIOs or parents or entrepreneurs. If you want to place in a publication, your piece needs to speak to that audience clearly and directly. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of adding in some concrete takeaways aimed at these ideal readers. Other times, we’ll have to subtly change the language so it addresses one group and not the other. Either way, getting audience right is worth the extra effort. For example, we tweaked one client article to address startup founders more explicitly, after a few “no’s” from publications; it ended up getting him a column in Entrepreneur.
Reconsider the angle. It could be that editors don’t think your take on this topic is as original as we did. Maybe some time has passed and an idea that was new and exciting is now old hat. Whatever the case, it may be time to see if we can add a new wrinkle or a timely hook to your argument that will make it stand out. For instance, we reworked one client’s piece on the importance of diversity to address Travis Kalanick’s resignation as Uber’s CEO, and ended up landing a placement in VentureBeat.
Trim word count. Most business publications prefer thought leadership pieces around 800 words. If your article is over 1,000 and you’re not hearing back from editors, it might be time to start looking for paragraphs to chop. Time and distance will make this easier. (When you haven’t looked at the article in a few months, it’s easier to notice that your anecdote about spearfishing in the Florida Keys isn’t as relevant as you originally thought.) Trimming word count may also open up new placement options, as some publications have strict word limits and won’t take longer article.
Try a new title. At Hippo, we try to send out every piece with an exciting and attention-grabbing title. However, no one has a perfect batting average. If a piece isn’t sticking, it might be because the title isn’t catching editors’ eyes. It could be that the language isn’t attention-grabbing enough, or that it sets up an expectation that the article itself doesn’t deliver on. In any case, brainstorming some new titles is a great way to refresh an article quickly without getting bogged down.
That said, we don’t get to this stage for the majority of thought leadership pieces. Usually, all a good article needs to place is more time—and a little bit of luck. However, it’s good to know that if an article does get stuck, there are always backup options.