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  • Leslie Horna

Become A Thought Leader With Op-Eds

Best practices for opinion pieces that build trust and influence audiences

In times of crisis, we look to leadership for guidance and encouragement. Company CEOs, nonprofit executives, and government agencies and officials embraced the opportunity to connect more directly with their stakeholders at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak.

CEOs failing to demonstrate expected public leadership.
2020 Edelman Trust Barometer

With consumer concerns ranging from health and safety to information credibility, economic security, and future planning, companies have their hands full with this crisis. Edelman's 2020 Trust Barometer report notes that CEOs are falling behind on meeting consumer and employee expectations. Yet this isn't from a lack of trying.

One way executives work to build trust with audiences is through commentary, commonly referred to as the "op-ed." The opposite editorial page (op-ed) is a valuable way to clearly communicate a point-of-view on a timely topic while also contributing to a greater conversation. It is designed to persuade.

With such a strong need to be heard right now, let's review op-ed best practices to help you write an opinion piece that news outlets will want to publish.

Why An Op-ed

Companies and executives provide guidance, support, and general counsel on a host of topics nowadays - politics, mental health, and weathering a crisis. To establish their authority on a topic and influence opinion, the business community often turns to the op-ed.

But first ask yourself, who cares about this topic and my [company/executive's] opinion? What do I want people to do with the information I share? Typically an op-ed is the chosen means of communication because of it's power to persuade, to shift opinion. Op-ed authors aim to build their credibility [and notoriety] by sharing their perspective in public forums. That being said, op-eds must have a clear point-of-view to be successful.

How To Write An Op-ed

1. Newsworthy - Be relevant. Track the news, take part in the conversation by commenting, liking, and sharing content on social media, as well as reading and watching media. Comment on other opinion pieces in publications where you'd like to publish.

2. Succinct - Directly deliver the point-of-view in 750 words. It must have a unique perspective, not simply detailing facts. You're going for influential AND informative. Use active voice.

3. Lead With Point - The topic should align with current conversations in the community or industry. Don't forget to include the opposing side of your argument, which will only further compel readers to support your perspective.

4. Persuade - An op-ed is a commentary on a topic with the goal to persuade audiences to take action. Be sure to include a strong call to action in the piece. Write with empathy. The opinion shared needs to reflect the tone and perspective of the author. Personality helps!

5. K.I.S.S. - Avoid company or industry acronyms and jargon. Keep it simple, silly. Be very consistent and direct when communicating the topic and theme throughout the op-ed.

6. Visualize - Include real-life examples, photos, videos, outbound links, and other interactive media that supports your point. Add substance to validate facts and opinions.

7. Credit - Source data, research, and interviews used to communicate your point-of-view. Include quotations in the piece where necessary.

Where to Publish

Authority is important in getting an op-ed published. The New York Times defines authority best, "readers will look to authors who have standing, either because they have expertise in their field or unique experience of a subject. If you can offer neither on a given topic you should not write about it, however passionate your views may be."

When planning your campaign, make sure you have or plan to develop a list of outlets and submission criteria. Many media companies publish deadlines and details on their website. A newspaper is more likely to apply to a wider audience of readers whose knowledge base and engagement with the topic may range in experience. Compare the newspaper audience to that of a trade publication where readers are informed experts in their field or industry. As you finalize an op-ed placement strategy and media outlet list, consider your target audience and where best to publish the article so that the audience will see and read it.

Use op-eds to establish thought leadership for your company. When writing your next perspective piece, refer to the seven steps detailed here to write a compelling case for submission.

If you want to revamp your brand story, crisis communications, internal communications, or discuss other branding challenges, schedule a complimentary consultation to get started.

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