3 ways to engage influential columnistsBy Wendy Bulawa Agudelo
November 28, 2017
Plenty of media outlets – digital and print – leverage individuals with special expertise, large followings or authoritative diatribe to round out editorial coverage in the form of columns. In fact, prior to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, columnists were the key influencers. For example, there was Pauline Friedman Phillips who, under the pen name Abigail Van Buren, wrote the syndicated “Dear Abby,” until her death at the age of 94. Walt Mossberg earned fame amid the pages of the Wall Street Journal for uncovering and demystifying technology. Herb Caen riveted readers of the San Francisco Chronicle with his daily column, which many considered the “voice and conscience” of San Francisco.
Columnists, surprisingly, don’t typically work in newsrooms and rarely write news stories or pieces assigned to them. Instead, they enjoy both the freedom and pleasure of writing about topics they deem relevant and interesting to their readers. Whether columns appear daily, weekly or monthly, these unique influencers often have a dedicated following who share similar interests. Columnists are thought-leaders who align themselves only with brands they like and respect, always seeking ways to provide value for their readers and perhaps contribute to a cause or mission important to them.
With no set “beat” or editorial guidelines, public relations professionals may find it challenging to maneuver onto the radar of these influencers. Because most columnists are not listed as staff members, it can be challenging to locate contact information. What steps can you take to get in front of and pitch influential columnists?
1. Engage directly through columns or social media channels.
The optimal way to engage columnists is through their columns or social media channels. Read their material and comment. Share and ask questions. Let the columnist know that you have an idea he or she may wish to consider for a future column. Take the time to personally engage in the columnist’s area of interest and clarify how your topic can interest his or her readership.
2. Reach out to the editorial team.
When push comes to shove, the editor-in-chief is the final gatekeeper for all editorial. If you believe you have a worthy pitch, consider reaching out to the editorial staff with a request to contact the columnist. Columnists have significant autonomy and aren’t beholden to much more than a word count and deadline. Editors have hired them because of their professionalism and expertise to independently write interesting subject matter and deliver on time.
3. Pitch your own column.
If the above efforts fail, try an alternate strategy and pitch a guest column of your own. The reason you targeted the media outlet and its columnist means you’ve already surmised an appropriate topic to cover. Pitch it as a guest column to fill in a future hole and perhaps the editor will consider it and give her columnist a day/week/month off. It could be a win-win!
For a few years, I wrote a monthly column focusing on special needs parenting for a popular parenting magazine. I received various pitches from PR professionals, many of which actually stimulated ideas or became elements of larger features in the magazine. I learned how valuable PR professionals can be, provided they’re knowledgeable and understand how to properly target pitch ideas. Know your media, target a well-crafted pitch and pursue with professionalism. Using these rules as the foundation of your media relations strategy will no doubt land you success. For more tips on how to engage the media, download Axia Public Relations’ Learn Media Relations from the Media, which provides insider tips to ensure journalists read your pitch instead of tossing it.
Wendy Bulawa Agudelo has nearly 20 years of experience in technology, business, consumer and nonprofit public relations. She serves on the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress PR Task Force and is a culinary enthusiast and champion for the special needs community. Wendy has worked for Axia Public Relations since September 2014. Learn more about Wendy Bulawa Agudelo. Connect with Axia on Twitter @axiapr or tell us what you think in the comments below.
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Topics: media relations, public relations, PR tips
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