Making sure that your opinion gets heard

Getting an Op-Ed piece placed requires solid writing, as well as a strategic, timely plan, finds Tanya Lewis

Getting an Op-Ed piece placed requires solid writing, as well as a strategic, timely plan, finds Tanya Lewis

Last November, the Treasury Department announced it was considering a new program for investing Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds. The following day, Porter Novelli (PN) offered American Banker, a top publication for financial services executives, an Op-Ed piece about opportunities and potential dangers for private equity investments in banks, written by its law firm client Goodwin Procter. The piece was accepted, and The New York Times' DealBook blog also ran a story about the Op-Ed content after it was published.

“Goodwin Procter has... content that adds knowledge and value to the conversation – the partners live and breathe financial service and M&A,” says Albie Jarvis, SVP at PN. “That's... pivotal. Experts need to add value to the conversation about an issue and not just restate the facts.”

Jarvis adds that timing is also important. “The issue [must be] timely and relevant, and [you must be] timely in providing the Op-Ed to the outlet,” he says. “[One reason American Banker] accepted the article was because we committed to get it to them while this issue was very fresh.”

Bob Brody, SVP and media specialist at Weber Shandwick, says Op-Eds must offer tangible solutions to a problem, an insight, or a call to action. He also notes that fielding Op-Ed ideas to editors in advance of submission gives “tremendous advantage” in distinguishing your piece from the many other submissions.

“It also helps to take a somewhat contrarian position if you can, instead of aligning with traditional wisdom [on a given topic],” he adds. “For example, instead of saying, ‘We need healthcare reform, and here are 10 reasons why,' you could say, ‘We need healthcare reform, but [I don't think] we need it to the extent everybody seems to believe.' That type of approach may get more notice because it stands out from the pack.”

Jarvis advises getting to the point quickly, as most Op-Eds are only 500 to 700 words long: “[Don't] dance around an issue.”

Brody says writing self-serving Op-Eds is the biggest mistake clients tend to make. “An Op-Ed... pegged to a new product or a survey... is a tough sell,” he notes. “Look above and beyond... the sphere of your own interest.”

Elizabeth Romanaux, VP of communications at Liberty Science Center, a New Jersey museum supported by state funding, says she “had a bit of a learning curve” last year after submitting Op-Eds to The Star-Ledger, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal that were considered too self-serving. She notes that it's important for PR pros to help CEOs understand that Op-Eds must balance what they want to address with media outlet needs and requirements.

“We submitted Op-Eds that talked about the need for... science centers and their role,” Romanaux says. “We shouldn't talk about ourselves at all – we should talk about the topic of science education.”

After The Star-Ledger pointed out this mistake, Romanaux regrouped and the paper accepted an Op-Ed last November that addressed the economic meltdown and the role of science education going forward.

Jarvis explains that it's important to use good Op-Ed placements to extend coverage. “You have control of content, and you know when it's coming out,” he says. “That gives you the luxury of thinking about who [else] will be interested in the story. Identify commentators, particularly bloggers, and flag that story to them. [They can] link to it and, ideally, add more commentary.

“For this topic, we had a very focused audience and our goal was to drive it toward very specific outlets,” he adds. “It isn't a consumer topic, you'd want to go broader for a consumer-oriented topic. Know your audience and what outlets are important for them.”

Technique Tips

Address issues in a timely manner

Add new knowledge and value to a topic

Make your point quickly and clearly

Submit Op-Eds that are self-serving

Miss chances to extend play online

Submit before fielding ideas to editors

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