name

Author - Lecturer - Strategic Communications Adviser

Category: Media

In Today’s Media Landscape, Opinion Essays Are a Communicator’s Best Friend

It is becoming more challenging than ever to secure earned media, or media one doesn’t have to pay for. Not only do public relations pros outnumber journalists 4 to 1, but journalists are increasingly asked to do more with less. Further, it appears the media is consumed with the latest offering from, or the latest activity in, the Trump administration.

Even when an issue is noteworthy, communicators face an uphill battle garnering media coverage. While it’s harder than ever to secure media coverage, the desire for media attention is unrelenting. I’m responding by utilizing opinion essays. Opinion essays are guest columns usually between 700 and 800 words. They have one or two bylines and represent opinion bolstered by provable facts.

If you’re interested in pursuing opinion essays as a strategy to share your message, here are five tips to ensure your column is published.

  1. Know Your Outlet and Who It Caters To.I once submitted an essay three times to a publication before I nailed exactly what it was looking for. The opinion editor was patient, but in an age where journalists must do more with less, she is likely an anomaly. Most editors won’t bother to respond to a pitch or essay that isn’t carefully tailored to their publication. While the sting of rejection is biting, op ed writers can decrease the prospect of rejection by researching the angle of the publication prior to pitching. Reading the publication’s opinion section provides insight into the content the publication is most likely to publish.
  2. Review the Publication’s Submission Guidelines. No two publications are the same. Some require exclusivity; some do not. Some accept anonymous columns, while others do not. Some require opinion essays to be between 700 and 800 words, and some want long-form essays or pieces containing at least 1,000 words. Since most media outlets include submission guidelines on their platforms, take care to ensure your essay conforms with what various outlets require. The submission guidelines are generally posted on the opinion section of online media outlets. In some instances, publications, such as The New York Times, Inc. and Truthout, write articles highlighting what they look for when considering opinion pieces.
  3. Include Links Backing Up Your Position. While an opinion essay is your opinion, if you’re seeking to be published in a journalist outlet, you’ll need to include supporting documentation to prove claims you make in the essay. Even if you believe your position is beyond dispute, insert links in your article to verify your point. Not only does doing so increase your credibility, it also saves opinion editors the time of having to research the points made in your essay or column. Separately, with persistent claims of #FakeNews, media outlets are under increasing scrutiny. To protect their interests and corporate reputation, they must verify claims published on their platforms.
  4. Be the First to Weigh In. Like other journalists, opinion editors are inundated with content from policymakers, influencers and savvy communicators. Waiting even a few days to respond to a breaking news item may be a few days too late. Some opinion editors accept the first well-written, error-free guest columns they receive. So, if you’re seeking to share your message with the world via an opinion essay, strive to be the first to weigh in. This means submitting your essay within hours, but at the latest, within a day of breaking news. The trick is to be timely without sacrificing quality. If you can do this, you’ll likely see your name, not quite in lights, but in the opinion section of notable media outlets.
  5. Know Whether Exclusivity is Required. Many publications such as the Washington Post insist on original content, meaning they won’t publish your work if it’s been posted on publishing platforms (LinkedIn Pulse, Medium or Facebook), posted on a personal blog or shared with other media outlets. Prior to submitting an essay for publication consideration, understand whether exclusivity is required and then honor the publication’s preferences.

By following these tips, I’m confident you’ll have success sharing your message via columns and opinion essays. And should you still not find success, you could always post your content on self-publishing platforms such as a personal website, Facebook, LinkedIn Pulse or Medium. In fact, one of the keys to boosting traffic on your personal blog or website is regular, fresh content. So, if your goal is to increase traffic to your website, posting essays there may be your best route. If your goal is to reach a specific subset of people who subscribe to, say, the Wall Street Journal, you’re better off trying to get your article published there. The bottom line is that even in today’s crowded media market, you have several options to secure media coverage.

My Top 6 Books for Effective Communications

Often, when we think of skills, we focus on hard skills. But being able to communicate well is one of the most important soft skills you can develop. It is also a key determinant to success. Think of your doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant, sitter, or your child’s teacher. Your relationship with these individuals, and your confidence in them, is influenced by how well they communicate.

Being able to communicate effectively can make or break the company or the leader. If you are a communications professional, there are a host of resources that can help you improve. In addition to conferences, workshops and webinars, there are a ton of books that focus on everything from how to write, how to pitch the media, how to cultivate relationships and how to navigate difficult conversations. Below are my top eight books to improve your communications game.

Talking the Walk: A Communications Guide for Racial Justice. Hunter Cutting and Makani Themba-Nixon’s “Talking the Walk” book is a how to guide for communicating around issues in racial justice. The book is a resource for persons seeking to interrupt dominant but harmful narratives about people of color and for persons doing media work on issues in racial justice. There are so few guides that focus on communicating about race that this book is a treasure. It is also helpful for persons seeking to learn strategy and strategic communications.

Words that Work. Frank Luntz’s “Words that Work” is the last book I’ve read on communications. Luntz brilliantly describes that people hear what you say through the lens of their own experience. He argues that communications is less about what you say, and more about what people hear. This is why certain words are deeply triggering for certain communities. For instance, I bristle when I hear words such as urban, and riot because they are code for Black, and not “code” in a good way. Every community or group has words that are triggering of course. These just happen to be mine. The point of this book is that focusing on what people are likely to hear is a preventative measure for ensuring your message lands as intended.

It’s worth noting that Frank Luntz and I are not aligned politically. But I believe everyone has something to offer and something to teach. Politics aside, I read this book and saw its genius and for that I’m thankful. “Words that Work” is a must read for all people who value communications and whose job depends on communicating well.

On Writing. Regardless of what you do, or who you are, at some point you will need to put ideas and thoughts to paper. From standard office correspondence, to long-form essays, to business documents, and reports, you are bound to write. One of the most inspiring and helpful books on writing I’ve ever read is Stephen King’s “On Writing.” He covers everything from the mechanics of writing to his personal journey with the written word. The book is humorous, easy to digest and inspiring. It is helpful whether you are a professional writer, aspiring writer or someone whose job depends on communicating well.

Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life. bell hooks is one of the most prolific writers of all times. Like Stephen King, she produces full manuscripts the way many of us communicate via text message – nonstop. “Wounds of Passion: The Writing Life” focuses on hooks’s early career as a writer and the process she followed to produce some of her earliest works. Like King’s “On Writing,” hooks’ book is somewhat autobiographical as it provides insight into her journey and, well, writing life. She documents the trials she experienced, including an abusive relationship, while she was discovering herself as a writer. If you are serious about effective communications, and need help demystifying the process, Wounds of Passion is required reading.

Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide. Of course, I can’t write an article on communications as a profession, without including my own book. If you are interested in learning strategies for promoting your work and ideas, Extraordinary PR is an excellent resource. The book highlights case studies from actual social justice campaigns and the strategies me and my team used to place important issues on reporters’ radars. The book also focuses on how to cultivate relationships with reporters, who can have an outsize impact on how your audience views you and your work.

Crucial Conversations. We live in a society where telling the truth, especially unsolicited truth, is not always welcome. In fact, it takes tremendous courage to be direct. Working in strategic communications, I routinely am asked to give feedback when people I work with have media interviews. A person’s ability to improve, with the media or otherwise, is directly correlated to the coaching and feedback they receive, but that doesn’t necessarily make telling the truth easier. You risk backlash and resentment. However, no relationship works without each party having the freedom and the space to tell the truth in love. “Crucial Conversations” is a road map to having difficult but necessary conversations in the workplace and at home.

Jennifer R. Farmer is an author and strategic communications practitioner for socially conscious organizations, leaders and celebrities. You see her musings and writing here and at Lifehack.org. Follow her on IG/Twitter using @pr_whisperer.

 

Communicating with Ambassador Status

What does your organization do?  And what is your role there? Can you answer each of those questions confidently in a sentence or two that most people can understand? If you can, you are communicating with ambassador status.

Each person within a business or nonprofit is potentially its ambassador. With good communication skills, each one can convey why others should know of, follow, buy from or support your organization. But I’ve noticed that too few of these “insiders” communicate like ambassadors.

Fumbling to explain

It’s ironic. People working at every level immerse themselves daily in their jobs and their organizations’ broader missions. Still, when asked to explain these, many people fumble around.

They give vague, complicated or jargon-filled answers. I’ve heard responses so meandering and detailed that they may leave listeners confused at best, tuned out at worst.

That’s one big communications breakdown.

Why achieve ambassador status?

Communicating like a true ambassador intent on building good relationships pays dividends. It has everything to do with that marketing buzz-word “brand.”

Brand is the reputation your nonprofit or business earns for the things you do and the way you do them. It’s what you want to be known for.

Do you want your organization to be known for being clear? For showing your value? For being open to what others think and need? These characteristics give your organization an attractive personality. They encourage others to engage with you. 

Communicating with ambassador status builds this reputation. An ambassador uses language and context that’s meaningful to each audience. An ambassador also welcomes dialogue, formal or informal, as an opportunity to share more information and to gain understanding of others’ views.

Communicating with ambassador status can provide other benefits, too, such as:

  • Finding potential customers. Conversations in all kinds of places can reveal who needs what products and services. At social events, for instance, I often talk to people interested in my professional skills. Many of them ask for my business card.
  • Drawing in volunteers. You may meet a scout leader looking for a service project for kids, a recent retiree who wants to give back to the community or a business owner seeking group volunteer activities for staff.
  • Discovering allies. It’s hard to make progress on big challenges when you act alone. Explain your mission well, and you may learn of individuals or groups that want to join with you on shared goals. Businesses and nonprofits, for instance, may want to partner on issues such as education, environmental action or helping people in need.
  • Creating opportunities to listen and learn.You may discover perceptions about your organization or needs your group can fill. Or you may come across new ideas you can bring back to your office to make your team more effective.

Make sure your entire staff knows how to communicate with ambassador status. Tell them how you’d like your organization presented and give them opportunities to practice that message orally and in writing. Prepare them to respond with composure on issues that may be challenging. Then you’ll know your staff can represent your business or nonprofit as capable and confident ambassadors.

Mollie Katz is communications director for the Religious Coalition for Productive Choice