Just when it seems like everything in media has changed, there’s one piece of news real estate that’s still as prized as beachfront property.
To those who work in government affairs, it’s the brass ring – attention for their policy initiative. To the big ego, it’s a tantalizing chance to gain attention (with words and a picture!). To the less sophisticated in PR, it’s seen as place that will run a story that others won’t. For too many editors, it’s an invitation for glorified Facebook posts to enter their inboxes all day long.
Under the right circumstances, a good op-ed can be a win for our clients, to communicate pointedly, carrying the banner and gaining the audience of a credible news outlet. For an outlet, a good op-ed must also be a win, giving the audience content that will draw clicks and eyeballs, providing access to informed opinion that goes beyond a staff writer’s knowledge.
So what is an op-ed anyway? Like many media terms that get misunderstood by those outside of “The Business,” op-ed comes from a day of newspapers gone by. Traditionally, newspapers had two daily pages of opinion content. On the left was the editorial page, which contained opinion pieces written by the newspaper’s opinion staff – those not carrying an individual byline represented a consensus opinion of the staff, called “editorials.” On the right, opposite the editorial page (op-ed, get it?) was a page of opinion pieces written by community members.
Even in world dominated by 24/7 opinion on social media, most publications still allow for op-ed submissions, even if they aren’t carried on a page by themselves. But they must be able to go beyond what can be found on a personal social media feed. They must be succinct, professional and provide expertise and insight that only the author can credibly provide.
They also have to go beyond the obvious. I learned that lesson years ago, during Enron, when representing a fraud investigator. We put together what I thought was a great op-ed submission, because it positioned the author well. But I got some feedback from an editor that I’ll never forget. “It just says ‘fraud is bad.’ So what? Tell me something I don’t already know.” A rejection turned into valuable advice.
Op-eds should be timely. They should be focused. Opinions should be backed up with facts. And they should be logically persuasive.
In recent months, we helped successfully clients with this piece in a business publication, urging businesspeople to take action, and this one in a big newspaper, advocating for a policy priority. Both provided benefit to the client organization and to the media outlet, something to keep in mind before hitting the “send” button to pitch.