Almost every business professional knows about clients asking for something that they can’t realistically have. Maybe that’s the “Rolls Royce” version of their service, but at “Nissan Micra” prices. Or it’s having an environmental report completed next week, when it will require a year’s worth of site-specific wildlife data.

I encountered two such situations recently, about publishing articles in client-read media. Since you may be encountering this kind of request from the client-service professionals (CSPs) you work with, it’s worth digging into the question of which publications are likely to publish an article from your firm, and which are not.

In the first situation, my client wanted to get published in a magazine she’d seen on news racks – “Psychology Today.” It’s a major, mostly-consumer publication out of New York, circulation a huge 275,000. I’ll explain in Point #3 below why I suggested an approach different from what she’d thought of.

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In the second situation, my client wanted to get published in a much smaller periodical – a business newspaper called the “Ottawa Business Journal.” Although it’s quite limited in circulation, it’s also not likely to accept an article from my client’s firm. I’ll discuss why, in Point #2.

This matters, because you don’t want to be investing your time and credibility, or of your CSP, in something that’s not likely to work out. So here are my top three reasons why some publications are unlikely to publish a contribution from your firm – so that you can focus on those that are likely to do so. And there are a LOT of publications, likely read by your firm’s clients, that are eager to publish your firm’s content.

1. They’re read by your competitors, not your clients

Many business professionals, when considering a publication, think first about their own professional publications.

I faced that situation a few years ago, working with a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) professional in Adelaide. She said that she wanted to write about new developments in GIS, and I asked her where to get published. She responded, “A GIS publication in Australia.” My question to her was, more or less, “Why publishing in a periodical read by your competitors? Wouldn’t you rather get your ideas into one read by potential clients?”

I asked her which market she wanted to reach, and she thought for a bit and then responded, “Mining.” I suggested that we could approach a publication like the Australian Journal of Mining, which is widely read by her potential clients, with the idea for an article on how new developments in GIS can benefit the mining sector. And that’s what happened. BTW, to learn about the process for presenting an idea to an editor, see post #74.

It’s always best to get articles published in media read by potential clients. Two exceptions to this:

Referral business: Some business professionals get much of their work from other members of the same profession, such as in-house legal counsel who look for professional support when they’re overworked or need a particular specialty they don’t have in-house. In that case, it helps to publish in legal media – but the article should always be focused on how your CSP can help the reader look good to her or his boss. (See Post #102 for more on publishing in media intended for business professionals).

The second case is when the CSP is trying to build their CV or LinkedIn profile to demonstrate expertise. Having published some articles or papers in their professional media will help show thought leadership. This provides comfort to the prospective client, who can then say to colleagues: “Here’s why we should choose that person for our next contract. They’ve published papers professionally – so must be a real expert.”

2. They don’t accept non-journalist articles

Some publications accept content written by external authors, particularly those who have acknowledged expertise. This content is attractive to editors because (1) it’s written by credible authors, and (2) they don’t have to pay a staff writer or a freelancer to fill those pages. Generally, midsize and smaller publications are willing to accept outside contributions. Exceptions:

Newsletters: In an age when most people want to click on an online article and read it, there is still room for high-quality newsletters. Often, these provide niche news on legal and regulatory matters – such as a newsletter that might cover developments in a US state’s environmental or health & safety governing body. Readers of these newsletters pay in the hundreds of dollars per year, or more, for scoops on new regulations. These publications almost never take outside contributions.

One way to identify these media is through their subscription prices – anything with a high price is likely a no-go for expert contributors.

City business newspapers: The “Ottawa Business Journal” is one such publication – a business newspaper, almost entirely written by journalists, covering the city’s business sector. They might have a regular column by a lawyer or accountant, but in general, they don’t welcome outside contributions.

How do you find out if a publication accepts external articles? Read it. Most publications have their content online, and even if it’s behind a paywall, there’s generally a sample issue available to anyone. Look through it and see if there are any articles with an “extended byline” that gives the name and affiliation of the author, and perhaps includes an author picture. If you don’t see anything like this, find another publication.

3. They accept articles, just not from you

As the old saying goes about winning lotteries – “Yes, someone’s going to win that $23 million prize – just not you.” Some publications accept contributions, but only for people with high status or a high profile.

Larger publications, which in the US market would mean anything over 40,000 circulation, are often written by professional journalists, and contributions by “experts” are rare. Sometimes, they’ll take opinion pieces by someone who already has a high stature among their readers, such as an industry titan or the head of a professional association.

One way around this is to look at the online versions of these publications, and here’s where my friend with the “Psychology Today” ambitions can achieve them. Most publications have a website that has become an online community, filled with news about the publication’s subject area. This is a bottomless hole that needs to be filled constantly with new content. Often, the staff who edit the online version are different from those who edit the print publication, so you need to appeal directly to them.

Start by looking at their website and getting a handle on the types of content they publish. That includes the headlines: they might read something like, “4 easy ways to …” which is your cue to produce an article that’s more of a “listicle,” providing quick tips and hints. Also, note what sections are listed at the top of each article: “Regulatory news,” “Start-up tips,” “Looking back,” and the like. In your approach to the editor, be sure to point out that you’re suggesting an article for their online version, and which section it would fit into. That makes it easy for the editor to visualize your article in that publication.

So just to reiterate – if you want to publish an article in a specific publication, check and see if it takes external contributions. Don’t waste your time, or that of your CSP, on an impossible dream. Find realistic dreams instead.