Breaking the bank with a full-page colour ad isn’t the only way to get into a newspaper. Writing an opinion editorial (‘op-ed’ for short, an opinion piece) allows your brand to communicate a nuanced message, advance an argument, and establish a leadership position using a credible media platform.
Drafting 800 words for a newspaper can seem like a daunting task, especially if you have no idea where to start. You’ll also have to pitch your piece to a journalist and convince them that your opinion is worth publishing to their audience.
Don’t fret if you’re not the next Shakespeare. We’ve broken down the op-ed writing and pitching process into nine simple steps.
1. Take note: an op-ed is not advertorial. At best, you get one line to very subtly reference your product or the role your business plays in your industry. The real reward for your brand is featuring in a widely read publication, establishing a thought leadership position, and building relationships with new clients.
2. Have something new and interesting to say. Pick a current affair that’s relevant to your business and your industry—Brexit, the Budget, an election—then find a unique angle. How will this affect your industry and the economy? For example, an Irish software company might find it more difficult to hire skilled workers from the UK post-Brexit. What can stakeholders in your industry do to solve this problem? What are you putting forward that no one else has considered?
3. Write well. Not only does a poorly written piece reflect badly on you, anything that requires more than a quick tweaking means busy editors won’t touch it. Get someone to look over your work, and be open to constructive criticism. If you’re not confident in your writing, consider reaching out to a third party for help committing your thoughts to paper.
4. Reel the reader in. The average adult has an attention span of eight seconds—fail to capture it and your reader’s eyes will wander to the next headline. That’s why having a great hook is important. Begin your piece with an interesting anecdote, quip or story, preferably one that foreshadows your main argument, then tie it into your commentary.
5. Embrace brevity. Newspapers straddle a fine line between information and entertainment. Readers want to come away with new knowledge, but they don’t want to read a thesis. That means no jargon and no padding. Keep sentences simple—your ideas will be clearer that way.
6. Wherever possible, bring your own data. What business data can you utilise? Can you conduct a survey to gauge industry sentiment? The more facts and figures you have, the more interesting your piece will be.
7. Remember we have a free press. Even if you’ve penned a masterpiece and it’s got a preliminary thumbs up from the features desk, sometimes breaking news can bump you down or even off a journalist’s to-do list. Editors have the final say, and if they think your piece is better suited to a later edition or it just doesn’t work, that’s their prerogative.
8. Minimise the risk of this happening. By knowing what the media’s talking about, you’re less likely to make the mistake of writing something that’s already been covered, potentially ad nauseam. Papers want fresh content, and an original story will be hard to turn down even for the most cut-throat editor.
9. Be prepared for ‘feedback’. Once your story is published, people are free to comment. You’ll get plenty of pats on the back, but as with most things in life, your detractors are likely to be the most vocal. Don’t take it personally. If you think your piece will stoke a disproportionate amount of controversy, make sure you know how to effectively manage your follow-up communications with the media and the public before you publish.