The decision to write an op-ed shouldn’t be taken lightly and requires a decent amount of forethought.
An op-ed is an opinion article that expresses the opinion of the author, usually taking a strong stance on an issue. They are a popular PR tactic, but they may not always be the best move—especially considering how difficult they are to place.
All media outlets have different publishing systems and processes making it even more complicated. Most organizations ranging from nonprofits to mission-driven companies have all the necessary parts for putting together an op-ed including leaders, expert voices and a newsworthy cause.
Opinion pieces can help propel an organization’s mission, but you should only consider an op-ed if you have a unique, decisive take on a timely issue in the news.
Here are three things to consider once you decide to move forward:
1. Understand the outlet and weigh your chances.
Research is a key component of pitching your op-ed.
Knowing the outlet’s publishing schedule and content needs is one place to start. For example, The Hill publishes upwards of 25 op-eds per day, while Axios may post 25 in a week. Consider whether they pull opinion pieces from other outlets in their network. USA Today picks up articles from over 100 local papers within their network and are likely to place those op-eds over yours.
Another key aspect is audience. Does your voice and content align with the typical audience the outlet aims to reach? Also ask yourself what type of opinion content they push out. Do they utilize video like NowThis or publish longer form personal essays like HuffPost and Vox?
This can help you come up with creative strategies to make your op-ed stand out.
2. Evaluate your experts and your content.
Who is your expert? Why should the outlet care what this person says? Are they taking a strong stance on the issue?
These are questions you must ask when you are considering an op-ed. Evaluate who your experts are and what they are best suited to talk about. Consider when it’s appropriate for the head of an organization versus someone with recent experience in the field to be the byline.
While big names can help, an expert who knows their issue and has a timely opinion should not be overlooked. If your writer is not as well-known, a good pitch is your chance to explain why they are the expert and why they should care.
It is also essential to asess the strength of your content. For example, your organization’s new research could be a hook if it can be connected to current news. It’s important for the piece to take a strong stance on an issue, which for nonprofits can be difficult to balance, especially when politics are involved. When you can, try not to reach the middle ground. Instead, pick a side and back it up.
Finally, a major factor when it comes to placing content is making sure you have something unique and timely. If something similar has been published already, it is unlikely for an outlet to even consider your piece. Do your homework and show that you’ve researched the outlet and know they haven’t recently published something with your viewpoint.
You don’t want to come across as lazy when trying to build a relationship with an editor.
3. Be prepared and don’t wait for news to break.
Speed is essential when it comes to placing op-eds. If there’s an issue brewing in the news in the realm of your expertise, don’t wait for news to break before you consider an op-ed. If you know of upcoming dates, like congressional hearings, events or observance days around your cause, reach out to outlets ahead of time so they can put your piece in the queue for the proper time frame.
Part of being prepared is also having a shortlist of well researched outlets you would like to reach. If your No. 1 passes, are you ready to hit send to No. 2?
Op-eds can be tricky, and the current news cycle does not always work in your favor, but by researching your outlets, you’ll be better prepared when evaluating whether or not an op-ed is the right strategy.