The golden PR opportunity that everyone ignores

by Eddie Reeves on October 16, 2009

Want to gain notoriety in the news media?

Want to get exposure you to the most important people in your city?

Want to position yourself not just as a smart and knowledgeable expert, but also as one who cares deeply about the health and well being of your community?

Want to do all that in a way that cost you virtually nothing?

If you answered “yes” to those questions, then authoring guest columns on the op/ed page of your local daily newspaper could be for you.  Having interesting pieces published there is one of the best opportunities for gaining notoriety in the news media.

So what’s an “op/ed”?  While many assume the term is shorthand for “opinion editorial” the term actually stands for “opposite the editorial page”, which is where these guest columns are published.  Usually found on the next-to-last page in the first section of the newspaper, the op/ed page features essays and opinion pieces from national political columnists, politicians and other pundits deemed to be authorities on the issues of the day.

They don’t get as many readers as the front page or the sports section, but what op/ed pages lack in numbers they more than make up for in quality: The editorial and op/ed pages are read deeply by the community’s top political, business, cultural and civic leaders.

Editorial page editors, who decide what appears in these pages, are always on the lookout for local voices to add to the op/ed page, and a well-written piece that offers a fresh perspective on a timely issue will frequently not only find its way into print, but will often be positioned prominently on the page.

Here are four tips to make your op/ed column successful:

  • Make sure your topic is timely. The purpose of op/ed columns is to offer commentary on an issue of public interest or controversy.  While you certainly should expect to benefit from the publicity, keep in mind that your article is not a promo or advertisement.  A smart PR thinker can always find a way to make sure you are positioned well without appearing to be self-promoting. For instance, if you are an accountant, you could comment on the local city council’s approach to financial management.  Or, if you are an IT vendor, you might discuss how students are suffering because the local school district is dragging its feet on upgrading to the latest educational software.
  • Make sure your column is well-written.  The best guest columns are thought provoking and succinct — usually no more than 800 words.  That’s not a lot of space to develop an intelligent and memorable argument, but that must be your aim.  And it must be your aim to write it in away that makes your piece stick in people’s minds.  More than any other section of the newspaper, opinion sections thrive on clever turns of phrase, apt metaphors and other rhetorical devices.
  • Be colorful, but not cranky. Good op/eds are not wishy-washy.  Take a clear position and advocate for it forcefully and forthrightly, but don’t resort to personal or ad hominem attacks on those who would disagree with your position.  Mudslinging leaves you dirtier than anyone else.
  • Be reachable. At the end of your guest column you will include a short line or two identifying yourself.  This is as close as you will get to a pure promo, but resist the urge to puff yourself up.  Instead, use a short and sweet line describing what you do and then include either your website address or an email address.  One caveat: if you include an email address, make sure it is not your main business email, because in addition to some desirable messages, you will likely get a good deal of unwanted “spam” messages.

Follow these guidelines and you will be on your way to becoming a widely-read local pundit.  Not every one will agree with your position on a given issue, but if you do the job right, they will respect and remember you.

And that’s the point, right?

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