Good communicators strive to be persuasive and to be opinion leaders. That’s why they like to write articles for newspaper editorial pages. Such articles are called op-eds and they are a unique and powerful communication tool. Using journalism’s formula for the 5 W’s and the H (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How), here are the basics on op-eds.
WHAT is an op-ed?
An op-ed is an opinion piece that appears on the page opposite a newspaper’s editorial page – hence the term op-ed. The opinion pages are usually at the back of the first section of the newspaper.
WHO writes op-eds?
Op-eds can be written by executives and leaders in almost any field. Often, they are ghost-written by communications professionals and appear in print under the byline of a CEO, government official or other opinion leader.
WHY write and publish an op-ed?
There can be many reasons to seek publication of an opinion piece. Your organization may want higher visibility, especially among decision-makers in industry and government. Politicians read editorial pages and so do business people, advocacy leaders and others interested in public opinion and government policy.
Your organization may want to influence public opinion and/or government policy. You may be in a crisis situation and seeking to get your point of view out in the public arena. The page opposite a newspaper’s editorial page is a good place to do just that.
WHEN do you submit an op-ed piece for publication?
Timeliness is essential. If there’s a news event or a controversy that directly impacts your organization, be ready to write fast and act faster. I have worked for organizations that procrastinated and labored over an op-ed for so long that the media had moved on to a new topic. They were no longer interested in the subject we were concerned about.
WHERE do you place op-eds?
It’s best not to set your sights on the Washington Post or the New York Times. Big dailies like these receive hundreds of submissions every day and your chances of getting published are very small.
You can still have impact in regional and smaller dailies. Try your hometown newspaper, which is automatically more interested in local businesses, government and nonprofit offices.
I have found the best way to get an op-ed published is to ask for an editorial board meeting. Take your CEO or top leader and a communications representative. Editorial writers and sometimes reporters will be at the meeting at the newspaper. Have an op-ed ready to leave behind after the meeting.
HOW do you write an op-ed?
Keep it at no more than 750 words. Open with your strongest point and use the rest of the piece to back up your major assertion.
Keep your sentences and paragraphs short and use active verbs. Close with a re-statement of your major argument and give a call to action.