An op-ed is a great strategy for a prominent business or political leader?and often works for authors and leaders of not-for-profit groups, too. Op-eds have prestige and an authority that goes beyond what you can get from a press release. Op-eds can also be a lot easier to place than press releases, especially if you can link news to your client's expertise.
Clients like them because they are longer than a letter to the editor, which gives them some room to expound on the issue. They can be added to portfolios, reprinted for promotional distribution or even framed and mounted on the wall.
If you are going to write an op-ed on your client's behalf or help your client write one himself, here are some ground rules to keep in mind.
1. Pinpoint your market. From small local to large, regional publications, newspapers are committed to publishing opinion essays that reflect their circulation areas. If you're going to submit an op-ed, you first need to know what sort of material is generally published and what's news from that publication's point of view. This may seem pretty basic, but Fran Wood, opinion editor at The Star-Ledger in Newark, NJ, just across the river from New York, is inundated with submissions from people who think that, just because she can see the Manhattan skyline, she's interested in the same thing as the city papers. Wrong. Wood's op-ed page is strictly New Jersey-oriented.
2. Don't bother to query. Everybody wants to see the finished product first. With few exceptions, if you've never written for a publication before, send in the completed essay.
3. Write well. Stay away from tired topics. And get the structure right.
A newspaper op-ed is not really a conventional essay. It is more rigid, the opinion expressed more narrow and the length shorter?from 400 to 750 words. Start with a catchy lead paragraph that is about 30 words.
Use the second 35- or 40-word paragraph to explain further what you said in the first graph. The third graph is the nut graph?that's the place where you make your point, preferably in a sentence or two. Use the next half-dozen or so graphs to support your point?logically and with verifiable statistical information and quotes from experts. Banish the phrase 'I think' altogether. Throw in humor whenever possible. Wrap it all up with a concluding graph that clearly ties back to the nut graph.
4. Act fast. Bob Berger, editor of the op-ed page at the Los Angeles Times, gets more than 100 submissions every day. When news breaks, his fax and e-mail go into overdrive. Timely pieces may be used within the hour to satisfy continuously rolling deadlines.
Figure out which delivery method works best. Berger's assistant gives him paper copies of everything, so he's more likely to see a fax before he does an e-mail, since she has to print out the e-mail.
The same is true at the Chicago Tribune. Marcia Lythcott, opinion page editor, only takes the time to read e-mail submissions three times a week, but she peruses fax submissions daily. It's the opposite at The Washington Post and USA Today, however, where e-mail holds sway.
5. Look for multiple opportunities. With a little revising and retooling, your piece will be fresh fodder next time a similar subject comes up at a non-competing publication.
6. Work to build relationships. There's inherent arrogance in editorial page editing. After all, editorial page editors' whole lives revolve around telling other people what to do. It's also true that they're inundated with submissions. You'll have more success getting answers and getting on a first-name basis if you work through their assistants. In some places, that's the main decision-maker anyway.
7. Make yourself a resource. Once you've established contact and a successful track record, make it clear you'll be available if the editor or his assistant has need for a piece on which your clients are expert. That's the way editorial page editors often work.
8. Ask for pay. Most publications pay for submissions, although some are reluctant to cough up the money if your client is writing something that is self-serving. A little tactful negotiation is called for.
WHERE TO SEND YOUR OP-ED PIECES
Atlanta Journal and Constitution firstname.lastname@example.org or fax: 404-526-5611. Fax preferred. Maximum 200 to 600 words. Pays dollars 50-dollars 250.
Boston Globe Marjorie Pritchard prefers e-mail: email@example.com or fax: 617-929-2098. 750 words max on culture foreign or domestic. Occasional slice-of-life essay. Pays dollars 200.
Chicago Tribune Prefers fax: 312 222-2598 but has e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Max 600 words. Pays dollars 150-dollars 200.
Christian Science Monitor email@example.com or fax 617 450-2317. Will not consider queries by phone. 400 to 750 words. No policy wonks. Seeks contributions to Moral Dilemmas column and pieces about life issues. Pays dollars 150.
Intellectual Capital Online, aggressively multi-partisan magazine. 750-word opinions from left, right and center. Site changes every Thursday. Deadline previous Friday. E-mail queries to managing editor Bob Kolasky (firstname.lastname@example.org). Pays dollars 250 to dollars 1,000.
Los Angeles Times Prefers fax 213 237-7968, but has e-mail: email@example.com. 650 to 700 words, news-driven. No nostalgia or first-person reactions. Pays dollars 150 +.
The New York Times. Fax: 212 556-3690 or mail to: The Op-Ed Page, 229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036. 650 words. Pays dollars 150 +.
The (Newark) Star-Ledger Fran Wood, perspective section editor, prefers e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or fax: (973) 877-5845. Daily Speaking Up column, 400 to 500 words. Op-eds to 600. Pays dollars 100+.
USA Today Chris Collins, assistant in op-ed likes e-mail: email@example.com or fax to: 703-247-3108. 600 words. Query Collins via e-mail first, preferably early in the morning. Pay dollars 300+.
The Wall Street Journal Max Boot prefers fax: 212 416-2658. Can use mail: The Wall Street Journal, 200 Liberty St., New York, NY. 10281. Don't do both. Include cover letter with two-line summary of submission and writer's credentials. 700 to 1,500 words. Pays dollars 300+.
The Washington Post E-mail preferred: OPED@washpost.com or fax: 202 496-3928. 600 to 700 words recommended. Editor Stephen Rosenfeld advises against tired topics like abortion. Pays dollars 200+.