Newspaper Op-Eds: A Frequently Overlooked PR Tool

Newspaper Op-Eds are very important pieces to the puzzle of comprehensive coverage for a client. We use them for our clients. Here is an article from Public Relations Tactics by Scott Berman.

newspaper op ed

op ed

Newspaper op-eds — signed opinion pieces on the page opposite editorials — are important PR tools too frequently overlooked by communications professionals. And for many of those who use this tactic, efforts often stall because of common pitfalls in the three-step op-ed process: envisioning, preparing, and marketing. Nevertheless, there are internal and external benefits to op-eds that make the effort pay off.

Putting together an op-ed can serve as a catalyst for organizations to develop language on important issues. Thus, an op-ed is a manifesto for external and internal public relations: helping organizations stake claims on a range of important issues.

Possible hooks are not hard to find. Try your own files. There are news releases and speeches whose still-relevant content likely reached a limited audience. Your organization is probably fighting some of the same battles described in those documents. Use them. I once developed a piece that was derived from a months-old news release about a dangerous, overlooked loophole in federal law that created hazards on city streets. The issue — to make laws that would save lives on roadways — remained pertinent and was again of keen interest when a particular kind of traffic accident occurred: demonstrating why the issue mattered. In turn, op-ed language can be used for interviews, speeches, and other internal and external communications.

Further, decision- and lawmakers are keenly aware of the opinion pages of national and regional newspapers. They read, think about, and are often sensitive to op-eds. Many officials regard such print forums as particularly prestigious and influential, whether or not they like the opinions that appear there. Although a quick, routine news package is likely to reach more people, it tends to be fleeting, unless there is a crisis. Op-eds have staying power. They may show up in the paper, in that official’s news summary at the office, in their staff’s files, or in later letters to the editor. They can be conveniently reviewed, held in the decision maker’s hand, copied at a moment’s notice, and cheaply circulated.

Build the op-ed around a timely or regional hook. Watch news coverage for possible opportunities. For example, I once found a newspaper list of needed infrastructure projects in all 50 states. This was of great interest because the issue directly affected my client. I then checked and used the data to market localized versions of an op-ed on the subject nationwide. More than a dozen appeared.

Newspaper editors rely on the anniversaries of news events for updated coverage. For instance, I once tied op-eds about the need to restore a monument to reported comments by a state official, the anniversary of D-Day, and July 4. Another time I tied versions of a piece to the anniversary of the introduction of a historic bill in Congress. A year and a half later, I revisited the issue in a version linked to the anniversary of when the law went into effect.

Too many agencies and organizations blanket mail op-eds without any reference point or clear local angle. Others lack a valid hook, besides an organization’s desire to get ink on a particular issue. Make connections between your issue and hooks that are logical, newsworthy, and of strategic value to your client. In addition, be prepared to describe the piece to editors accordingly. Help editors identify relevant issues of interest to their readers, even if the topic or hook is unconventional or unexpected.

Also, think of op-eds in terms of internal relations. I once asked a technical expert to edit a draft of an op-ed for accuracy. “I’ve been here for 30 years, and no one has ever asked me to review anything like this,” the expert said appreciatively, even though speeches and releases were prepared through the years that touched on aspects of his area of expertise. Let experts know you need them — they will appreciate it and their future help will come in handy.

Op-eds can be credible components of media kits. With a newspaper’s copyright approval, such pieces can be copied and serve as meaty, thought-provoking items for others as they form perceptions about your organization.

The majority of op-eds are targeted to one or two newspapers and, when not printed there, are presumed dead. Prepare a prioritized list of publications to approach in turn. Work your way through it as you receive answers. Remember, placing an op-ed is like getting a date — you only succeed if you ask.

Find out who handles op-eds at the target newspaper. Regarding op-ed pitch letters and communication, be ready to offer one exclusively in terms of time, content, or circulation area — whatever the editor requires. Make appropriate follow-up calls, and take no for an answer with courtesy — you may have other op-eds to offer in the future.

Source: Public Relations Society of America