Nervous of getting misquoted? Write a guest column!

May 16, 2024

The most common reason clients tell me they’re nervous about being interviewed by a print or online journalist is that they worry they could be misquoted. Or at very least, the resulting story won’t accurately portray them or their company.

Fair enough.

To be interviewed by a reporter is, no matter how honest and conscientious the journalist might be, is always a bit of a gamble. But with risk comes the possible reward of the kind of cred that advertising can’t pull off.

Which is why I’m forever amazed how few clients consider writing guest articles or columns for publications.

I’m not talking just about general interest newspapers, which typically publish pieces by outsiders as op-eds (as in, opposite the opinion page). This editorial “real estate” is often harder to obtain, for reasons I’ll talk about in another post. Rather, I mean the umpteen other publications aimed at all manner of niche industries and interests.

By way of example, for those in the construction field, there are dozens of so-called trade publications offering information for everyone from executives to subcontractors, and concrete makers to carpenters, on how better to run their businesses or do their jobs. Most of these publications are eager to publish articles by genuine experts on matters relevant to their readers.

Better yet, the vast majority of trade publications don’t charge guest authors to run such pieces. So if you’re worried about your words being taken out of context, here’s an opportunity to ensure you have control over what’s published. And, with guest columns typically running anywhere from 800 to several thousand words in length, and your byline (and often your headshot photo along with bio and website link) accompanying your article, the article is effectively all about you and your expertise.

Pitching editors at such publications is similar to most PR pitches, though instead of offering yourself (or, in my case, my client) to be interviewed for his or her insights, you simply say you’d like to write a piece on the topic, including why it’s relevant and timely, and you’re the right person to write it. If the editor says he or she likes the idea, you’ll typically agree on a deadline, word count, maybe be asked to sign a contributing writer agreement (mostly to ensure you’re not stealing others’ words and/or pledging not to publish the piece elsewhere first).

Of course, you can always write the article first and submit it to an editor for possible publication. But I find it generally better to pitch the idea first so you don’t risk writing a piece only to find no takers.

A quick note: Read or skim at least one issue of the publication you’re eager to write for before you pitch in order to get a sense of the kinds of topics covered, as well as whether there are specific and recurring features and/or sections that might be a good fit for the kind of article/s you’d like to write.

Even if you’re comfortable with being interviewed, guest columns are a fantastic – and strangely often overlooked – tool for more good publicity.