Dustin Siggins is founder of Proven Media Solutions.
I recently made a rookie mistake. We were asked to edit and place an op-ed. I assigned team members, we renovated the piece and then we proudly sent it to the client.
The feedback wasn’t quite what we expected. The client said we had ruined the author’s voice — the way the author wanted to be read and perceived. We were given explicit instructions to start over, to simply cut the piece down and make as few edits as possible.
What I had forgotten to clarify with the client beforehand was how my team should execute our mission to put their author in the press. We were focused on having the highest-quality writing to put the piece in the highest-quality outlet.
But the client preferred the author’s voice, even at the expense of a higher-quality piece and losing the chance to land the piece at a top-tier outlet.
3 considerations: voice, content, and outlets
There are three crucial considerations to take into account when crafting and placing an op-ed:
- What is the author’s voice? This is how an author wants the media consumer to understand the point of view of the author, how that point of view is perceived and the impact the point of view should have. Some people and organizations want to be seen as counter-narrative — pushing back against the norm — while others want to be the down-the-middle referee simply calling the shots. And others want to be seen as authoritative and in charge.
- Writing quality is next: How well-crafted is the op-ed? This isn’t just about having interesting content conveying the intended message. It’s also about sentence structure, typsos (ha, ha),the lede, and logical fallacies — the entirety of the piece of media that’s being crafted.
- Outlet quality. Again, pretty simple — this examines the quality of the media outlet(s) targeted by the author. But it’s not just identifying outlets based on brand recognition or circulation numbers. Different outlets are better fits depending on the author, subject and desired audience. For example, a great voice in an excellently crafted op-ed about how AI is changing the tech world belongs in a tech outlet, not a construction trade outlet. And a piece about roofing technology belongs in the construction trade magazine, not Wired or the Wall Street Journal.
Everyone sees these components differently. One client focused on helping women navigate postpartum challenges. Its spokespeople cared far more about precision of voice and writing quality than the quality of outlets. A Washington Post op-ed that wasn’t precise to the client’s voice would have been harmful.
More recently, a business client wrote an essay in his voice – and we chopped it down, restructured the whole thing and changed the tone. He cared more about quality and getting in a prestigious outlet than his “voice” –- and the piece is being published in a top international business outlet this month.
Another client doesn’t care at all about voice or quality. Instead, the PR goal is to put a lot of pieces into targeted outlets over and over again.
What is the client’s priority?
In an ideal world, all op-eds would have the best writing, get in the best outlets and perfectly match an author’s voice. And, while I’m wishing, I’d be retired, writing a weekly column for The Washington Post, and traveling the world with my family.
But here in reality, there are often sacrifices. That’s why it’s important to understand a client’s short and long-term goals, narratives, and target audiences before putting the writing process even starts. And that’s what I forgot to do with my rookie mistake: ensure that the vision my team had was the same as the one the client had.