January 31, 2013
The art of op-ed writing has never been more relevant than in today’s media relations environment. With a growing number of bloggers and shrinking number of newsroom journalists, the competition is increasingly stiff for earned media placements, particularly in daily newspapers.
These new realities call for updated strategies as we look to rise above the noise and articulate our message in a compelling manner.
The challenge is to find strategies and tactics that combine the worlds of old-school media relations with new-school benefits.
On the tactical level, one can find the answer, at least partially, in the art of op-ed writing.
Op-ed (opposite the editorial page) pieces combine the benefit of traditional media placement — the credibility of having a story selected for publication — with the beauty of blogging — relative control of your organization’s message by avoiding a newsroom gatekeeper who can turn a story pitch into a few lines of a trend story.
Regarding the benefits of traditional media, op-ed pieces enjoy the credibility of articles that editors of local newspapers — which have clout — deem relevant.
According to a Pew Research Center study in 2012, nearly three-fourths of adults follow news closely. Those who are 40 years or older and read local news rely heavily on the local newspaper as a primary source of information. Further, these individuals’ community attachment defines them and they are as likely as other adults to use technology as a way to share links or post comments.
Their placement in the opinion page section represents valuable real estate in the media relations marketplace in targeting the audience since decision-makers, such as elected officials, tend to gravitate to this section.
As for the new-school benefits, op-ed pieces offer the advantage of blogs and other similar social media outlets by reaching the public directly with a relatively unfiltered message.
The key is to have a message that resonates with the public and to craft the copy from the reader’s view. Once the editorial page editor is sold on the premise of the op-ed piece and the copy is constructed in a manner that resonates with the reader, the copy often receives slight editing — mainly for the newspaper’s style.
Further, crafting op-ed pieces often causes media relations professionals to do our best work. We are hard-wired to compete for the public’s ear in the court of public opinion, and op-ed writing forces us to be on top of our game.
Effective op-ed writing must offer perspectives that are of particular interest to the community at large and answer that all-important question: “Who cares?”
With this mindset, we are adding relevance to the company line and explaining not just what our organization is doing, but also why we are doing it and how it impacts our stakeholders.
A topical subject and direct writing style are essential, according to Jim Krumel, editor of The Lima News in Ohio.
“My advice to PR professionals is to be on an issue that is in the news and something the public might be interested in,” says Krumel, a newsroom pro of more than 30 years. “Keep it tight — generally around 500 to 700 words. Also, stick to the facts and keep the icing off of the cake. Do not try to fool people. Hit the point directly and do not gloss over it.
“Also, put it in terms that can be understood by the general public. Use terms and phrases that people can relate to and not industry jargon,” he adds.
Additionally, PR professionals should stay in the shadows and craft the piece on behalf of the organization’s CEO.
“We recognize that we have community leaders,” Krumel says. “It is important to hear the voices of those leaders and to have them explain issues in their own words.”
Here are some tips for crafting an effective op-ed piece:
In my present position with a regional university campus that serves a defined area, the placement of op-ed pieces has been especially valuable in articulating how we serve our region in a venue that is viewed by both prospective and current students and supporters. We have received positive feedback from individuals in the community, indicating that our message is hitting its mark.
Further, because of the clarity of these messages, the copy in the op-ed pieces has been useful in other venues, such as advertising messages, talking points and internal communication efforts. In this way, we are able to maintain an integrated, cohesive message.
In short, op-ed pieces are important tactics that are especially applicable in today’s media marketplace as we continue to refine our craft.