Seven reasons your thought leadership content sucks

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On March 16, 2017

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Poor thought-leadership content tech PR and HR tone

The number-one thing that clients need the most help with is thought leadership. They ask us: How do I get my subject matter expert out there in the media, talking about a specific topic that is tied to my business? How do I make her look credible, and stand out from the rest of the thought leader wannabes?

The easy answer is, “great content.” But executing on that answer isn’t so simple. Getting great thought leadership content right, and then getting it published, is becoming more difficult than it used to be. Publications are flooded with pitches from guest authors, offering to write pages and pages of content on any given subject matter. As a result, editors can be extremely picky about what they accept. And beleaguered news outlets are looking for additional revenue streams, so when they see content with a sales angle, we’ll often get an invitation to purchase ad space instead of an acceptance of the article.

Here’s the ugly truth: most thought leadership content sucks. It’s our job as a strategic agency to break this news to our clients, but also to suggest ways to make it better. With this in mind, here are the top reasons content gets rejected by editors:

  1. It screams “Infomercial.” Editors aren’t interested in reading an article about how your company’s product could have prevented the latest data breach, or how your platform is going to solve all the world’s problems. They’re smart people and if they catch even a whiff of a sales pitch in your content, it will get rejected faster than a greasy-haired dude in an Ed Hardy shirt at a singles’ dance.
  1. It’s loaded with techno-speak. Unless your content is aimed at a deeply technical audience, packing an article with too many tech abbreviations is going to confuse your readers and tune them out. It’s okay to give background on a specific technology and explain how it works, but save the code and product specifications for a data sheet or whitepaper.
  1. It’s brimming with buzzwords. Even worse than techno-speak is the dreaded marketing buzzword salad. We call it “Bullshit Bingo” and we’ve spoken to many editors about how it’s completely out of control. If the goal of your thought leadership content is to pack as many industry keywords in an 800-word space for SEO purposes, expect to go down in flames.
  1. It’s too safe. The other problem editors complain about is that content lacks any kind of personality. More and more publications aren’t interested in the standard “how-to” article – they want edgy, engaging pieces in which the author expresses an opinion and takes a stance on an issue. (Think about how popular those “You’re Doing it Wrong” articles were earlier this year.) Often, beneath layers and layers of marketing speak and key messages, there lies an author with a strong opinion and clear point of view on a given topic. Our job as PR people is to draw that out and shine a spotlight on it.
  1. It’s not exclusive. Guess what? Editors know how to do a Google search, too. And when they get a piece of content from a guest author, the first thing they do is paste the title of your article into Google to see what comes back. If any portion of your article has appeared elsewhere, whether that’s another media outlet or even your company’s blog, it’s likely that editor will hand it back to you with a “Thanks, but no thanks.”
  1. It’s not valuable to readers. Does the content offer the reader something new that they can’t get from a Wikipedia entry or your website? Does it teach them a new concept, introduce an emerging trend, share unique best-practices or express an opinion that will make them want to share the article with colleagues to start a conversation? If the answer is “none of the above,” it’s time to start re-writing.
  1. Your expert is The Invisible Man. When you position a guest author as an expert, what evidence do you have to back that up? What’s his following on Twitter? Has he written other blogs? Appeared at a trade show? Been a guest on a podcast? These days, simply calling an author an “expert” isn’t enough.

Are you guilty of any of these offenses? Make a resolution for the rest of 2017 – may it be the year of “Yes” for your content!

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