OtterPR’s Scott Bartnick Provides Tips for Thought Leaders on Establishing Writing Credentials


To be a successful thought leader, being an expert is not enough. You also must be a contributor. Your voice and your views need to be heard regularly by those seeking guidance and inspiration in your field.

To be welcomed as a contributor in the top tier publications that drive your industry, nothing is as important as establishing strong writing credentials. While gaining those credentials is not easy, it is critical for cementing your credibility and growing your influence.

Here are some tips that can help you on the journey.

Build a writing portfolio.

When you approach any publication about becoming a contributor, they are going to ask for writing samples. They want to see what you can do. They want to know if your work is a good fit for their readers. They want to see who has trusted you in the past with space in their publication.

If you are in the early stages of your journey as a thought leader, your writing samples obviously will not be from top tier publications. Do not let that discourage you. Your writing can be impressive regardless of the publication in which it has appeared. Even if it is from your own blog, a good writing sample can take you to the next step. The important thing is that you have something that you can share.

One important aspect of a strong writing portfolio is flexibility. Some publications prefer long articles that appeal to industry insiders. Others prefer short, punchy writing that makes a topic accessible to newbies. A strong writing portfolio will have examples that show you are adaptable to a variety of writing opportunities.

It is also important to show in your portfolio that you are an active writer who is regularly publishing new material. If you have a blog, make sure you are publishing new posts regularly. Providing a new post weekly will communicate that you are actively thinking and writing on your topic. This will communicate that you are reliable and able not only to write an article but also able to deliver it on a deadline.

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Craft a successful pitch

Your pitch is the message that you send to a publication promoting who you are and what you can write about. Crafting a good pitch is important. Popular publications are receiving hundreds of pitches a day. For yours to be considered, it needs to stand out.

To be effective, a pitch needs to be concise. As I’ve said, publications are sifting through hundreds of pitches each day. If you present a lengthy proposal with big walls of text, it will not be read.

Make sure that your subject line makes your point quickly and makes it well. If you are known in your industry, your name might be appropriate in the subject line of the pitch email. If you are not well known, promote your area of expertise and the important information that you can share. Keep in mind that the editor or journalist receiving your email is a busy person; the subject line might be the only thing that he or she reads.

Just as important as the subject line are the opening one or two sentences of your message. This is the snippet that will be seen before the email is opened. If it builds excitement about who you are and what you can contribute to a publication, your chances of landing an article go way up.

Once the message is opened, the reader should quickly be able to evaluate what you have to offer. Providing bullet points of the various topics you can address will allow a quick assessment of whether or not you are a good fit for the publication. Providing a call to action, such as an interview opportunity, also can help to show the value you can bring to the publication.

If you really want to grab the attention of the reader, pitch yourself in a way that relates to breaking news. Regardless of your area of expertise, finding a way to speak to the latest news trends will make you more valuable to a publication. For example, the COVID pandemic continues to be a hot news issue and probably will be for some time. If your specialty is technology, pitch how you can explain what technology is booming because of COVID. If your specialty is mental health, pitch how you can speak about the greatest mental health challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Here’s a bonus tip: If you want to make it easier to get your pitches read, spend some time building relationships with the reporters or editors to whom you will send your pitch. Many of them are active in the social media world. Follow them, comment on their posts, and engage in some discussion about the topics on which they report. If they already know who you are when your message hits their inbox, you will have a much better chance of getting that message read.

Grow your writing skills.

You do not need to be a professional writer to have your articles published, but you need to be a good writer. Once you move beyond your blog and start looking for others to give you space in their publication, you will need to be producing quality material.

It goes without saying that your work should be free of spelling and grammatical errors. If that is a challenge for you, utilize tools like Grammarly or the spelling and grammar checks on your word processor. Submitting articles that lack basic editing will not help your journey toward credibility.

Also, make sure that your work shows you have done your homework on the publication. Most publications have submission guidelines that detail the word count that they accept, the style of writing that they prefer, and what items, such as promotional links, might be prohibited. Ignoring a publication’s guidelines is an easy way to get your work rejected.

Share your work once it is published.

Getting an article published is a win. Make sure you share it. All of your social media followers should know about it, as well as your email list and visitors to your website.

Not only will celebrating your success increase your influence with your followers, but it also will increase the traffic to your article. Driving traffic to a publication is a great way to get approved to submit more articles. It also looks good to the other publications that you are pitching.

Partner with a ghost writer or editor.

Establishing writing credentials is an important part of your journey as a thought leader. But that does not mean you need to become a great writer. Many successful thought leaders work with ghost writers or editors to prepare articles for publication.

Perhaps other responsibilities are keeping you too busy to write at the level that most publications demand. If so, a ghost writer can be a valuable tool for capturing your thoughts and incorporating them in engaging articles. Even if you are a talented writer, a ghost writer may be a more efficient way to accomplish your goal of establishing writing credentials than doing all of the writing yourself.

If you struggle with writing, it does not mean you cannot be a successful thought leader. By leveraging ghost writers and editors, you can still become a sought after contributor. As long as you can provide engaging content, a professional writer can package it in a way that will be welcomed by publications and help you to build your portfolio.

Most thought leaders dream about seeing their byline in a top tier publication. Bringing that dream to life can be a long journey. Applying these tips can help in establishing the credibility that you will need to stand out, break through, and achieve the dream.

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