Sharing your opinion with the world

Even with the proliferation of online opportunities, the rules for placing Op-Eds are still the same

Even with the proliferation of online opportunities, the rules for placing Op-Eds are still the same. Though a media outlet's Op-Ed section is often not the first target of an outreach campaign, a well-placed opinion piece can position a company, an executive, or an organization as both a thought-leader and a trend-setter.

Thanks to the emergence of Web-based sister sites to print publications, online-
only news sites, and blogs, opportunities for placing Op-Ed pieces are on the rise. However, the changes to opinion and editorial pages haven't been nearly as dramatic as
in other journalistic categories.

This is especially true in newspapers, where staff constraints often prevent editorial page editors from focusing beyond printed editions.

"We'd love to add additional Op-Eds online, but it's a matter of staff time for editing the content and we don't have that," explains Hartford Courant editorial page editor Carolyn Lumsden. "We work very hard just to get into the paper what we've got.

If anything is good enough to appear, it's good enough to appear in both places."
However, the impact of online Op-Eds is being felt in vertical and trade publications.

"In our clean-tech practice, there is a good concentration for energy-industry trades that are online-only where you can get an Op-Ed placed," says Skye Laudari, account associate with the Bay Area-based Antenna Group.

Laudari stresses, however, that just because an outlet is online-only, that does not mean
the standards for Op-Eds placed there have changed in any way.

"You still need forward-looking topics that will grab people's attention," he adds. "You need to know what the editors are looking for in terms of content and style."

In an era where consumers seem to increasingly prefer both their news and opinions
in shorter bites, Marty Nott, account director with Alexandria, VA-based O'Keeffe & Company, says PR pros also need to realize there is now little room for either wide-
ranging or long-winded Op-Eds.

"You're seeing more columns, but they're smaller, so these outlets are able to provide more diversity of perspective," he explains. "But the focus of those pieces now have to be narrower - either very localized for newspapers or, if you're talking about industry publications, very specific to that industry."

David Lerner, president of New York-based Riptide Communications, has had great success getting advocacy opinion pieces placed in top-tier outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

He advises following closely whatever guidelines the editorial page editors have
set up, but also to keep in mind that many of the same rules that apply to news also apply to Op-Ed sections. "That usually means a fresh perspective and new information on a timely topic," he adds. "They also still want a good narrative which advances a story."

Amy Christopher, president of Baltimore-based Warschawski, also stresses that most outlets will want an exclusive on any Op-Ed.

"You should also provide the background of the person penning the piece - with either a CV or other piece [he or she has] done - to establish the person's credibility," she adds.

Given that the biggest key to getting an Op-Ed both placed and noticed is often timeliness, Christopher says that PR pros need to have an Op-Ed system in place with a client well before the need to write one comes along.

"A lot of that goes back to PR 101 of relationship-building with clients, but it's also a matter of knowing what you're trying to accomplish with Op-Eds from a business standpoint," she says.

Nott agrees, adding, "You need to drive home the point that Op-Eds should be a part of any media strategy. You also need to keep in mind that while Op-Eds really are an individual's point of view, certainly you want to make sure they're in line with
a client organization's goals."

Technique tips

-Be timely. Have a process in place that lets an executive deliver an opinion piece
on breaking events in days, not weeks.

-Be proactive. Face-to-face meetings are a great way to get executives out there

-Extend an Op-Ed's impact beyond a day. Send reprints to key stakeholders to drive home an executive's thought leadership

-Be overtly promotional. As tempting as it can be, an Op-Ed should never be used as a commercial

-Re-hash the past. The best opinion pieces are always forward-thinking

-Limit pitching to only traditional media. There are plenty of new opportunities online, especially in the vertical/trade publications

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