Are contributed articles overrated?

Are blogs overhyped?

Why even compare a traditional/conventional PR approach with digital social media? The answer lies in the increasing number of times that under-the-gun PR directors shun blogging in favor of contributed articles. Many assert that blogs are bandwidth hogs in contrast to contributed articles. Really?

Before I delve too deeply into this conversation, keep in mind I am not talking about guest commentaries or op-eds for major publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today or the New York Times. They have their own distinct and celebrated value based upon the power of their mast heads.

What I am assessing is the value of preparing contributed articles, particularly for technology, health care and financial trade publications by company executives, technologists, engineers, marketers and sales representatives. And then I am contrasting this marketing and brand management practice that almost goes back to the Book of Genesis to redirecting a least a portion of this time and effort to self publishing through blogging.

I have scars on my back resulting from my efforts to convince many well-respected public relations practitioners to adopt a blogging program for their internal/external clients. Sometimes I have been successful, more times I have not. In these latter cases, the PR pros express SEC Reg FD (Fair Disclosure) concerns, worries about releasing proprietary information or cite time restraints in favor of contributed articles.

What is so curious is that contributed articles can take up to 8x the amount of time as a blogging program. Ever hear of the term, “re-spins?” A contributed article program is the Mother of All Re-spins.

Let’s see. First you contact the trade editor (who is awake at night wondering about the fate of her or his position/publication) and pitch the idea. The editor may like it or not. If so, s/he will ask for an abstract. You will then prepare and submit the abstract. Sounds good. Oops, the editor wants you to amend the abstract. Back to the drawing board (first re-spin).

Now it is time to re-submit your abstract. Whew, it was approved. Now comes the actual article, 1,000-words? 1,500 words? 2,000 words? You now submit the article internally for review. “Re-spin please.” Ugh. Another rev is completed, which is approved by the Powers That Be. Time to submit to the editor. Oh no, s/he wants some changes, time for the next re-spin.

Finally, your freshly amended contributed article is complete and it has been accepted by the editor. The only problem is three articles are ahead of your piece in the queue. Your submission will be published . . . next month. So how many months does a contributed article consume from initial pitch to actual publication? Three months? Four months? Five months? . . .

Yes, your contributed article has the advantage of authenticity that comes from being published under the imprimatur of a respected trade publication, but at what cost in terms of time and effort?

Now contrast that amount of time compared to digitally posting a conversational marketing piece by selected engineers, technologists, executives etc. via a company hosted blogging site is as little as one day? Can you build thought leadership and enhance the company brand via a blog? Certainly. This is particularly true when a blog post results in an on-line conversation with a prospective or established customer, an analyst, a supplier, a partner or a journalist.

Is there a realistic worry about a Reg. FD violation? That shouldn’t be a problem, if you have asserted and imposed control over who blogs and on what subject. And isn’t it common sense that you do NOT use a blog to publicly discuss next quarter financial results or anything else that may constitute a “material” event? What about proprietary information? Ditto when it comes to company controls, and besides how much can you really reveal in four or five paragraphs?

If a company has the horsepower, resources and talent, I would recommend both contributed articles and blogs and have the two be complementary pieces of your marketing and brand management tool kit.

For a start-up with very few of these attributes, self-publishing in the form of blogging is the easiest and most cost-effective answer to establishing thought leadership, building brand and painting a corporate portrait.

In the end analysis, contributed articles and blogging should not be mutually exclusive.