As the editor of a business-to-business publication, I rely on outside contributors to keep our pages stocked with insightful content – content that’s especially relevant to our readers because it was written by somebody in the same position as them.
Whether the author is a company executive with high-level knowledge or a field professional with a firsthand understanding of the issues that keep our readers up at night, contributed content is the lifeblood of any b-to-b brand. But as essential as outside contributors are, they can present their share of challenges, as well.
Outside contributors have knowledge we can’t possibly possess about the industries we cover – but they also lack an understanding of the ins and outs of a newsroom. As journalists, we can’t expect contributors to know exactly what we do any more than we know exactly what they do. We do, however, have a responsibility to them and to our readers.
Here, then, are three best practices for working with outside contributors.
1. Be as clear as possible with expectations up front. We have a thorough document outlining the submission guidelines for our particular publication, which includes a mission statement, readership, deadlines, and pointers on style and voice. But outside contributors are busy with their day jobs, and while it’s ideal that they review and follow our three-page submission guidelines, it helps to cut to the chase. For us, the most important aspects of any contributed content are that it be nonpromotional and discuss the “how” just as much as the “what and why.” I make sure to emphasize that in the email where I accept the pitch, and attach the submission guidelines for their review.
2. Fact check, fact check, fact check. Never assume that your author has the facts straight just because of who they are. Cross-check every number, date, name, and fact. While you’re at it, run a plagiarism check. Often, plagiarism from an outside contributor isn’t a purposeful attempt at deception as much as it is a lack of understanding about what is and isn’t OK to quote at length. Recently, while fact-checking some figures in a story, I ran a block of text through Google to try to find a particular news story cited in the contributed article. That block of text came back – as having been pulled directly from a U.S. Patent application, along with about 600 additional words that appeared in the contributed story. It always pays to check – and check again.
3. Be flexible. Industry experts have so much to offer, so don’t stop at “no” after asking for a 1,500 word how-to article. If they’re too busy, find out if you can contact them later in the year, when the topic may come up again. Look at other formats – maybe they don’t have time to run an article, but they have 15 minutes for a phone call that will result in an informative Q&A. Maybe they can write a brief blog post. Be creative, and look for ways to leverage their knowledge in your publication.
When handled well, an outside contributor can be a rich source of content for your publication over time. They can offer referrals to other contributors, and keep you informed on industry angles you might not pick up in the midst of your own day-to-day tasks. Extra time spent with a contributor on the front end can pay off handsomely in time saved in the long run.
What about your own best practices? What have you found has helped you work better with industry contributors and get the content you need? Share them here in your comments.
By Christina Pellett