Good Press: 6 Steps to Writing Killer Op-Eds and Commentaries

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Media commentators have pronounced the press release dead more times than Mel Gibson’s career.

Twitter, Facebook, and other social media avenues have no doubt altered the way business owners and entrepreneurs approach public relations and building buzz. There’s certainly increasing value in social media releases, Facebook groups, and other evolving tactics.

But that doesn’t mean it’s lights out for more traditional media plays like basic press releases. The problem is those standard announcements become the static, default option.

And that’s why business owners should give serious consideration to the power of the op-ed.

Developing top-notch opinion pieces and commentaries for traditional news outlets and online information hubs is a great way to boost your credibility, your brand, and potentially conversions.

The phrase “op-ed” refers to the page opposite a newspaper’s editorial page. Traditionally, the op-ed page has served as a public forum for various viewpoints and opinions on the news of the day, from political and social commentators to community members at large. Online publications may not have tangible editorial pages, but high-level sites certainly embrace compelling and timely commentary.

Either way, this is prime real estate, which means it’s tough to land a slot, especially at larger news outlets. Generating compelling and truly newsworthy opinion pieces that enhance your reputation and instill authority take significant time, investment, and nuance.

But the rewards are usually handsome. Getting a guest commentary in a mainstream newspaper or on a high-traffic website can snowball into future gigs, steamrolling link love and more.

For example, I put together a Veterans Day op-ed as part of my work for a national mortgage company that specializes in VA loans. The piece focused on how these loans and veterans themselves can serve as a model for redefining sustainable homeownership in America. It was published in newspapers across the country, including three in the top 45.

For us, timing was obviously everything. It’s a bit more difficult to push a commentary about veterans and VA home loans in the middle of June. And that strikes at the heart of this — strategy is a major key to success when it comes to op-eds and commentaries.

Whether you’re looking for business exposure or you’re simply a regular Joe trying to get your voice heard, there are some steps you can take to boost your chances of op-ed success. Here are six big ones.

Be Timely

This is the single most important aspect. There are some evergreen issues (health care, taxes, etc.), but having a solid time peg makes you instantly more attractive. News is, well, new. Business owners should look for ways to inject their opinion, product, or expertise into a current hot-button issue. Media outlets don’t care about your latest innovation or a new product line — seek to latch onto a more generalized issue or trend.

Find a "Nut Graf"

This is a journalism phrase, one that undergraduates nationwide tend to abhor. The nut graf is basically the “So what?” paragraph. You need to show readers (not to mention editors) why they should care. What’s the point? The impact? How will this affect their wallets, their grandchildren, or their future plans? Make sure this paragraph is up high in the piece. Once you finish writing, ask yourself: What’s the point? If you can’t provide a simple, one-sentence answer, you’re not ready to start pitching.

Write Tight

Conciseness is especially key to a guest commentary. Most outlets have a ceiling around 800 words, but that doesn’t mean you should aim for it. Editors love writers who can make the same point in a lean 500 words. Get to the point immediately and use short sentences with active verbs. Embrace economy of language.

Stick to One Issue

Reforming the welfare system or addressing prison recidivism are complex issues. Drill down into a core aspect of your topic and focus on that. You can’t effectively cover an expansive current event or lingering social ailment in 750 words. Focus on clearly and concisely making a single point by using examples, anecdotes, and data.

Offer Specific Solutions

It’s incredibly easy to sit back, take pot shots, and call for further research or an immediate halt to whatever police action you’re protesting. That’s not likely to inspire an opinion editor or readers. Instead, offer specific solutions to the problems or issues you’ve raised. 

Finish Strong

This is true for anything you write. Leave readers with an emotion, whether it’s awe, hate, or indigestion. Avoid snarky and cliched finishing strokes. Consider circling back to your opening paragraph and bringing the piece full circle with a tie-back paragraph.

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