If you want to grow your influence, credibility - and your client list - getting a regular column on a magazine or newspaper can help a lot. But how exactly do you make it happen?
Here’s some tips to get you started.
1.Leave your ego at the door
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know I’m a pretty positive sort. I believe anyone with a great idea and a bit of common sense can get national media coverage….now here comes the BUT…
Editors don’t generally hand out regular columns to people they haven’t heard of or worked with before. Why would they? Most have regular contributors - professionals who write for a living - or experts they’ve worked with for years...so why take a chance on someone new?
That’s not to say it’s impossible - of course it isn’t - but if you’re expecting to land a column off the back of a speculative email or two, you could be sorely disappointed.
While you do hear the odd story of people (usually those who’ve already attracted media attention) who’ve been invited to write a column, most people get there through hard work and perseverance.
2.Do your research
If you want to become a columnist for a specific newspaper or magazine there's one simple thing you need to do: read it. I don’t mean a quick flick through; I mean study it in detail, over a number of issues, so you can get a feel for its audience and the kind of content the editor typically runs.
Pay particular attention to the regular columnists. What kind of expertise do they have? How often are they writing for the publication? What kind of topics are they writing about? Are there any gaps i.e. topics that might interest the audience, but aren’t currently being covered?
Spend some time thinking about the audience. What type of people do you think read the publication (the clues are usually in the content)? Why do they read it (are they hoping to be entertained, informed, inspired...or something else entirely)? When do they read it (at the office, on their daily commute, over a lazy weekend breakfast?)
All of this will help you get a sense of the kind of content that might work for that publication.
While there’s no reason why you can’t ‘cold’ pitch yourself as a columnist, it’s generally much easier if you’ve already written a few pieces for the publication. Not only will the editor know - first-hand - that you can string a sentence together, they’ll also have an idea of what you’re like to work with (i.e. whether your file your copy on time, how you respond to their editing suggestions etc).
This is why I generally advise people to start by pitching a few one-off articles before suggesting a series or column. Here's how to write a pitch for an email journalist.
Starting small may also mean getting some experience as a columnist on an industry or regional title before approaching the nationals (where there is generally more competition). Approaching a national title when you’re already established columnist (and have a string of cuttings to prove it) will also give you a lot more clout.
To increase your chances of getting a 'yes' it's important to find the name of the person who can make a decision about your pitch. Here's how to find journalists contact details.
The frustrating thing about securing a regular column is that it can be a case of dead man's shoes (i.e. you have to wait for an existing columnist to move on before an opportunity arises). But once you've built up a relationship with an editor, you can do one of two things (or both):
1. Tell them you're looking for a regular slot and ask if they'll bear you in mind if anything comes up
2. Pitch a specific idea for a column or series
Although the former worked for me (it just so happened a regular columnist was moving on when I asked), I'd always suggest the latter if possible. Editors want to work with people who are full of great ideas, so if you can show that this applies to you, when an opportunity arises, you'll be the first person they think of.