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strategic communicator - Author - Facilitator - Workshop Presenter - Ghostwriter

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

By Jennifer R. Farmer

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.