Is pitching a client op-ed worth the effort?

Placing op-eds is harder than ever. But they're valuable if done right, says David Fouse, partner and lead strategist at Pinkston.

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The op-ed has been a valuable form of earned media for decades. But given the rise in digital and social media, is it still relevant? And how can communications teams take advantage of the shifting media landscape to advance their company’s, or client’s, thought leadership platforms?

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to the state of the op-ed.

Unfortunately, fewer traditional platforms are publishing op-eds, and the demand for space in these publications is higher than ever.

Consequently, content has to be increasingly unique to make the cut. It has to say something unique, and in a different way than how everyone else is saying it. While this means that published content is becoming more thoughtful and engaging, it also requires greater innovation and strategy from communications teams.

The good news is that print op-eds, while coveted, are no longer the only — or the best — strategy for getting a message out. Owned platforms like social media, blogs, videos and newsletters offer increasingly creative and valuable ways to reach targeted audiences and drive engagement. For example, we once released an entire op-ed in a sequence on Twitter.

Communications teams have to continue to think creatively like this and find new ways to authentically engage the public. It’s encouraging that according to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, consumers are seeking out this kind of engagement: "In 2019, engagement with the news surged by 22 points; 40% not only consume news once a week or more, but they also routinely amplify it." In addition to owned media, teams should also consider targeting more trade and regional outlets.

When it comes to crisis communications, the op-ed continues to be a strong opportunity for thought leaders and professionals not only to mitigate damage to their brand but to amplify positive perception.

In 2015, for example, when Coca-Cola was called out for funding scientists who "shift blame for obesity away from bad diets," CEO Muhtar Kent penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal titled "Coca-Cola: We’ll Do Better."

And when the Des Moines Register received criticism for their story on Carson King, whose Busch Light sign on ESPN’s "College GameDay" show launched more than a million dollars in donations to an Iowa children’s hospital, the paper’s executive editor published the op-ed, "We hear you. You’re angry. Here’s what we are doing about it."

In response to calls for online privacy legislation, Mark Zuckerberg wrote an opinion piece in March for The Washington Post laying out a case for what he thinks regulations should look like. But he also missed an opportunity to respond in May when Chris Hughes, a cofounder of Facebook, called for the breakup of Facebook in a New York Times op-ed that resulted in massive media coverage.

Comms teams today should aim to develop an appropriate mix of earned, paid and owned media. For example, an alternative crisis response option is to first use owned or paid media — like a blog or advertisement — and then use the earned media coverage that hopefully follows to pitch an op-ed elaborating on the message.

The best media strategy is to pursue traditional national op-ed outlets in conjunction with other platforms that could include: trade and regional outlets; contributor outlets like Forbes and Inc.; essay opportunities like HuffPost Personal; owned content like newsletters and LinkedIn; and video op-eds like NYT’s Op-Docs and podcasts.

This might be a heavy lift for comms teams, but it’s a strategy that will pay off in results.

David Fouse is a partner and lead strategist with Pinkston.

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