Making Opinions Count in PR

Public relations professionals who rely on pitch letters and press releases are missing an excellent opportunity to get clients in-the-news that showcases thought leadership and offers total control over messaging.

What is this often-overlooked tool in the PR toolkit? The Op-Ed.

An op-ed, short for “opposite the editorial page,” is a written prose piece typically published by a newspaper or magazine which expresses the opinion of an author usually not affiliated with the publication’s editorial board. Op-eds are different from both editorials and letters to the editor.

Once more for emphasis: an op-ed expresses the opinion of an author usually not affiliated with the publication’s editorial board.  That means the author can be a company executive, corporate board member, politician or even public relations representative.

Drafting op-eds should be part of the skill set for all PR practitioners, right up with writing a press release. However, writing an opinion piece is very different than creating a press release which relies on the 5 W of who, what, when, where and why, with zero editorializing.

An op-ed has different requirements and guardrails. With a word count of 750-900 words, there is ample opportunity to cover the topic and present opinions. A well-written op-ed will 1) reference recent news, 2) highlight facts  – or present additional facts – that either support or refute those covered in the news, 3) present the author’s opinion on the news and 4) emphasize the writer’s professional credentials and/or personal expertise that verifies the credibility of their opinion.

As important as knowing what an op-ed is, is being aware of what it is not. An op-ed is never a forum to tout a product or service. Similar to nearly all bylined thought leadership PR vehicles, the name, title and a short bio of the author of an op-ed will likely be the only reference to their company or organization.

Before even suggesting an op-ed to a client, a PR pro should thoroughly vet the topic, be familiar with how the news is being reported in diverse media outlets and be prepared to guide the client in developing their opinion. Be certain that the opinion will put the client in a totally positive light to their internal and external audiences.

As with all earned media, the ultimate decision on whether the op-ed gets into print lies with the editor. In making their decision, the editor will give the quality of the writing equal consideration to the topic and content of the piece. For a PR pro, submitting a well-crafted piece is the best way to make the client’s opinion count.