When most people think of PR, they think it's all about sending out press releases—to as many media outlets as possible—in the hopes that an editor will bite.

That is one aspect of PR. And it's the most commonly practiced. But it's not necessarily the most strategic approach. Particularly for those who don't have a product to push, but do want to get across a way of thinking or the thought leadership that differentiates them, a more effective approach is to position that expertise via bylined articles.

Think about it: an article that's written under your name and is 100% the message you want to communicate. It's not an ad (and so should be written in an informational manner) and appears in the editorial pages of a publication you've targeted because its readers constitute your buying audience.

Between the extent of the message, which you're largely controlling, and the third-party endorsement value of the editorial coverage, you've got a PR tool of substantial value.

To tap into the power of the bylined article to help build your credibility and reputation, you need to understand the five Ws.

WHAT They Are

The most fundamental lesson is what byliners are. They are articles written under your name—or, in journalism parlance, your byline. Such articles are a vehicle for you to flex your industry-knowledge muscles. The material in the bylined articles should be presented in a way that demonstrates discreetly what makes you an expert in your particular field. Three of the most common types are Op-Ed contributions, trend articles, and "how-to" pieces.

Op-Ed Pieces

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Sally Saville Hodge is president of Hodge Communications, Inc. (www.hodgecommunications.com), a strategic PR and marketing communications firm in Chicago. She can be reached at shodge@hodgecommunications.com.