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Writing: Too Good to Leave to the Writers
Start publishing case studies, position papers, and opinion columns that attract first-rate customers, suppliers, and partners
Writing is too good a business tool to leave to the writers. Your articles in company and industry publications can market both your company and yourself. In fact, writing for publication is a low-cost, high-impact way to attract, nurture, and develop excellent customers, quality suppliers, committed employees, and long-term partners.
Who should write for publication? Marketing executives, of course. But also CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs. Not to mention sales, HR, and manufacturing managers. In fact, anyone in business can benefit both themselves and their organizations by writing for publication to reach hundreds, thousands, even millions of readers.
But what if you've never written professionally before? Relax. It's far easier -- and more straightforward -- than it looks. Here are the steps involved in why you should write for publication, when you should write, and how you can get published.
Three reasons why you should write for publication:
1. To market your company. Potential investors, employees, partners, and suppliers are constantly assessing your company's standing within your industry. Are you leading or following? Innovating or barely keeping up? Consultant Michael Hammer wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review on business reengineering; within a year, his firm was conducting reengineering projects for some of the world's top corporations. Messages directly from you and your company can have just as powerful an impact.
2. To market your products or services. Has your company built a better mousetrap? Sorry, but the world won't beat a path to your door to unless they know about it. Leading technology companies including IBM, Microsoft, and SAP publish scores of white papers each year explaining how their systems solve their customers' important business problems. These technology vendors know that if they don't toot their own horn, nobody will.
3. To market yourself: Are you bucking for a promotion, transfer, pay raise, or an entirely new job? Writing for publication is a powerful way to position yourself as an industry expert. Jack Welch, Felix Rohatyn, and Andy Grove are just some of the business executives who have made names for themselves outside their industries by writing in general business publications.
The three best times to write for publication:
1. When your company has taken on a tough issue challenging your industry. For example, while many shipping and transportation companies are looking for ways to integrate wireless technology, Burlington Northern has done it, building an immense logistics park outside Chicago that uses wireless handheld devices to track freight as it moves from trucks to trains. Two executives at Burlington, Jeff Campbell and Fritz Draper, wrote about the project and had their article published in Optimize, a monthly magazine read by some 70,000 CIOs and other technology executives.
2. When you hold a strong opinion on a controversial business issue that is challenging your industry. Take offshore outsourcing: Do you believe that moving jobs from the U.S. to countries with cheaper labor costs helps your industry, or hurts? Hillary Rodham Clinton, the senator from New York and wife of a certain ex-president, recently shared her views on offshoring with readers of the Wall Street Journal. (Sen. Clinton believes U.S. companies can compete with offshore suppliers, for what it's worth.) Present your views clearly and persuasively in an opinion column, and readers will take notice.
3. When you foresee a new challenge, opportunity, or threat to your industry emerging in the future. Everyone wants to know what is likely to happen tomorrow. If you're in a unique position to see a future trend emerging, don't be shy. Management consultant Peter Drucker has made a career out of successfully anticipating trends that have included Japan's emergence as an industrial power, the advent of the "information worker," and the growing importance of nonprofit organizations.
Five steps toward writing for publication:
1. Pick your outlet: Who will you write for? There's a wide range of publications to consider. In-house newsletters are easiest to get into, and they're best for information of interest solely within your company, such as new hires, new appointments, and new projects. Trade journals, Web sites, and newsletters specific to your industry are the next easiest to get into, and they're best when you have completed an industry-leading project and can specify and quantify results, or when you have a strong opinion on a controversial challenge facing your industry. Broad business journals, such as Harvard Business Review, are the most difficult to break into, and are your best choice only if your company has achieved breakthroughs in a previously intractable problem that plagues multiple industries.
2. Do your homework: Once you have selected a publication you want to write for, read back issues and get a copy of the Writers' Guidelines. The back issues will show whether your topic has already been covered in recent months; if that's the case, the editors are unlikely to accept your article unless you can provide a significantly different approach. The Writers' Guidelines will help you avoid wasting time and effort by specifying the types of article the publication accepts, how long your article should be, and other important factors.
3. Contact the editors: Don't start writing without an editor's approval. First, send the editor a short written proposal that outlines your main points and explains why your topic is important to the publication's readers. Also describe the format you'll use (case study, opinion column, etc.), estimate the length of your article (in number of words), and suggest a reasonable deadline for yourself (three to four weeks is typical). Then wait for the editor to respond.
4. Get a reply: Most likely, you'll receive one of four possible replies: Unqualified approval, unqualified rejection, qualified approval, and utter silence. The first two responses are simple to handle; for the first, you write your article, and for the second, you look for another publication that might be interested in your article idea, and you also think up other ideas that the first publication might accept. Qualified approval usually means a response along the lines of, "We like your idea, but what would you think of focusing on just one project instead of the three you mention?" In most situations, your best bet is to agree. The last possible response - unexplained silence - is the most difficult to handle. Is the editor avoiding you or simply overloaded? To find out, wait one full month from when you submit your proposal; then send a follow-up note that includes your original proposal. If another month of silence passes, move on.
5. Get writing: Once an editor gives you the green light, write your article to the proper length and submit your work on or before your deadline. Be sure to include a bio, like the one at the end of this article, that tells readers who you are, what you do, and how they can get in touch with you.
Writing for publication is an essential low-cost, high-impact tool for marketing yourself, your company, and your products and services. Start writing today, and stop leaving all that power to the professionals!
PETER KRASS is the president of Petros Consulting (, a firm that helps clients improve written communications to attract, nurture, and develop excellent customers, quality suppliers, committed employees, and long-term partners. Call or write Peter at 718-398-5811,
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