23 Jul The Art of the Op-Ed
By Joe McLeod
I recently led a training session for public relations professions on writing and publishing op-eds. With numerous writing platforms available in the age of digital media, the op-ed can easily be overlooked as a viable tactic in the public relations playbook. The op-ed, which means opposite the editorial page or commonly expressed as opinion-editorial, is typically reserved for writers not affiliated with the newspaper or editorial board. It’s an open invitation for guest writers to enter the public discussion and lend a voice to a wide range of issues.
While an op-ed might not be ideal in every situation, it has the potential to increase the visibility of a PR campaign and establish yourself (your company or client) as a thought leader for a particular topic. Having written op-eds for local and national publications, I’ve compiled five tips to help you get the attention of an editor and ultimately land your column in a newspaper.
1. Bring a unique perspective. Ideally, an op-ed shouldn’t tell the readers what they already know. It needs be informative and offer an interesting perspective on an issue that makes people ponder. Think of it as a written TED Talk. TED speakers typically approach a topic from a different angle than the mainstream. They flesh out an idea that causes us to pause and think, “I’ve never considered that before, but it makes sense.”
2. Make it personal. Many PR professionals are accustomed to writing tight and structured news releases with a bland assembly of details, no mistakes and no oxford commas. It usually takes more than error-free writing to make the cut. Op-eds should be penned with a personalized voice that reflects the spirit of the writer as well as the nature of the topic. Use humor when it’s appropriate, and don’t be afraid to break out those creative writing techniques and literary devices. You can decide whether or not to use the oxford comma.
3. Opinions should be based on facts. A good op-ed isn’t a rant but rather a clearly articulated position based on sound reasoning and facts. Pointing out recent surveys, polling data and other bodies of credible research gives more weight to your position and increases the likelihood of the article getting published. Staying current with the latest research can also help generate ideas for topics that might be interesting to your readers.
4. Follow the guidelines. Most major publications post specific requirements for op-ed submissions on their website. They usually request the full article (not a pitch) with a word count that ranges from 600-1000 words. Also, many publications want exclusivity. They’re likely to shy away from material that’s been published elsewhere, which includes blogs, websites and other newspapers. It should go without saying that proper grammar and AP formatting are essential.
5. If you get rejected, try again. I’ve submitted articles I felt were destined for a Pulitzer, only get a response from the editor, “Thanks, but we’re going to pass.” There could be a number of reasons why an article doesn’t get picked up. It could be poor timing, not the best fit for the publication or perhaps not the best piece of written work. Rejection can be discouraging, but it’s part of the process. If you’re persistent and continue to fine-tune your writing skills, it will eventually pay off.
Joe McLeod is the managing partner of McLeod Communications.