Conversations on thought leadership — Part 2

Thinking about writing articles for trade publication? There’s more to it than meets the eye.

If you’re looking to carve out a reputation as a business thought leader, one route is to write a book that showcases your journey or your expertise. Publishing shorter content, such as articles, can be part of your “book” journey. Publishing articles in periodicals read by the people you want to buy your book helps make them aware of your ideas, and it helps to build the “platform” that many book publishers demand – they want to see that you’re an acknowledged expert in your field, with a following. One way to make that happen is to work with an experienced article ghostwriter. To learn more about the process, I interviewed Carl Friesen of Thought Leadership Resources.

Note: this is the second part our two-part interview. Part 1 can be found here.

Jonathan Verney: How and where do you (and your clients) publish their articles?

Carl Friesen: You don’t write it first. You query first. You get an idea what the editor’s looking for. It’s like doing a book or presenting a book to a publisher. You’re not just going to write the book first. Probably you’re going to put in a proposal or a query. And that’s what we do in publications as well. A lot of people make that mistake. They’ll write the article and then try to get it published. And it doesn’t work very well. You’d much better get the editors’ buy-in first.

Verney: What about keywords? Can the choice of keywords help me get found more easily and by more potential readers?

Friesen: Keywords don’t really work anymore. I’d say just find out the terms that they would use. If a reader was looking for an article on this topic, what phrases would they use? And I work a lot of long-tail keyword searches into my content. So I think of what keywords or long-tail searches they’d be using, like landfill condensate gas management or something along those lines.

And Google is getting pretty smart. They can figure out when you’re keyword stuffing. So if you put the right keywords into the headline for the article and the subheads and throughout the article, that really is what you’re looking for.

One of my frustrations is that sometimes these publications are not available to the web. They’re available behind a paywall and so not everybody would find them. So they’re not available to Google, and that is a little bit of a challenge. Who would be reading a publication called Pipeline & Gas Journal, for example, unless they’re really high up in El Paso Gas or Enbridge or one the other major trunk providers. So they’ll be looking inside the publication’s website for content. And these publications all have search engines within them, so that means that your article would get found inside. So using long-tail keywords and search terms is really, really important.

Verney: So you focus on the search function within that particular website.

Friesen: If it’s behind a paywall, yes. But it’s the same sort of thing. You still use the right terms. I did an article not too long ago talking about UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles, and then after we wrote the article I discovered that well, most people they call them drones, and I didn’t use that term in the article. So I was really kicking myself afterwards.

Verney: Is it a good idea to put together a publishing schedule?

Friesen: Yeah, I think an editorial calendar is always a good idea. Now one thing about this whole publishing thing is it’s so slow. If you’re used to being able to get published and it goes live, well, that doesn’t work here. But yes, you should list the topics you want to get known for, and I always say list out the publications you want to get into. Now you can always take the article and you can chop that up into individual blog posts and send those out on your regular blog or just put them up on LinkedIn as individual blog posts. So there are ways to replicate and reuse the content and that needs to be worked into your schedule as well.

If you want to be seen as a subject matter expert or a thought leader in your field, you should have several articles on your LinkedIn profile and they should be recent. So how recent is recent, that kind of depends on you. I think you have to have a reasonable number of articles posted on your LinkedIn and also that you’re updating your profile with new content, and articles published in third party media have more credibility than your own blog does.

Verney: What if I’m a client who doesn’t need writing help? Can I get editing or consulting advice? Do you get clients who are like that, who say I know how to write, I don’t really need you but I would like some editing or consulting? Or do you stay away from clients like that?

Friesen: Yeah, I’ve worked with these folks. Quite often… it’s really two parts to the process. One is the whole process of finding the publication, developing the story idea, and pitching it to the editor. That’s half the process. The other half of the process is in the article writing itself. And there are two equal parts and a person who is good at one is not necessarily good at the other. I think they’d probably need help from a PR agency or someone else in this line to be able to do the whole first part, getting the article sort of accepted and developing a concept and all that.

They might need help with the writing of the article itself and that’d be a ghostwriter, and any half-decent journalist should be able to do that. I find that quite often people would be able to write their own article but they quite often need more help in finding a publication and developing a concept and all of that. But a lot of people do this, the whole thing themselves.

Verney: So half of your process is a PR function, then finding the right media and then contacting and persuading them.

Friesen: Yes, it really is, and then we’re adding a third aspect to this as well and that’s the whole social media thing. And I do work that into my articles now so along with the article I’ll dream up three tweets to go with it and I’ll think of some LinkedIn summaries. I’ll even help them post the article to their LinkedIn profile because quite often they don’t know how to do that. That’s becoming a bigger and bigger piece of the puzzle now. Whether social media is a skill into itself, still I don’t know. It has been because it was been so weird and geeky for a long time, but now it’s getting so much easier and people are more familiar with it. So yeah, you’re right. It’s really three functions now. One is developing the idea, making it happen, writing it, and then the third is getting leverage via social media.

Verney: Do the vast majority of your queries become articles?

Friesen: Yeah, because I’ve been doing this for a long time. So I can look through the publication and I get a pretty clear idea of what they’re looking for. And then I’ll just either change the idea or I’ll find a different publication.

Verney: Let’s end the interview by summarizing some of the key reasons why people should work with a ghostwriter.

Friesen: Sure. Why do it? Because they’ll get a better product out of it. A good journalist knows the questions to ask, so they can format the article so that it’s informative. They can keep any sales pitches out of it. Editors won’t run an article if it contains too many sales pitches. So I think I can make the article more readable, and also make it more likely to happen. Part of the value a good article writer provides isn’t just making it happen, but all the little things that go along with being a professional, like being persistent and continuing to call the client until he or she actually picks up the phone.

Ultimately, my clients quite often come out of the process in a different place from where they began because they’ve thought through their ideas in more depth. So in retrospect there are three elements to writing an article: there’s the whole making it happen, then there’s the writing, and finally there’s leveraging the article through social media.

Verney: Thank you for your time and insights, Carl.

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