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How to Write an Op-Ed
Perhaps it's PR's most underutilized tool.
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by John McLain
McLain Communications

One of the best ways to gain credible visibility for a corporate client is to have that company's chief executive submit an opinion piece to a major newspaper and have it published. Easier said than done. 

Quite often, most CEOs have no time to write an op-ed; even fewer know how. That's where you step in to help the executive craft a fiery opinion, which is supported by facts making his or her case. An op-ed is not an essay, something that slowly unrolls like a carpet, building momentum to some point or conclusion.  It's just the opposite.

In an op-ed, you essentially state your conclusion first. You make your strongest point up front, then spend the rest of the op-ed making your case, or back-filling with the facts. Done right, it's persuasive writing at its best. You will help the company win converts, gain high-quality publicity for the company, and you will be reaching the elite audience of opinion-makers who regularly read the op-ed pages.

Here's a checklist to keep your op-ed on track:

  • Focus tightly on one issue or idea --- in your first paragraph. Be brief.
  • Express your opinion, then base it on factual, researched or first-hand information.
  • Be timely, controversial, but not outrageous. Be the voice of reason.
  • Be personal and conversational; it can help you make your point. No one likes a stuffed shirt.
  • Be humorous, provided that your topic lends itself to humor.
  • Have a clear editorial viewpoint - come down hard on one side of the issue. Don't equivocate.
  • Provide insight, understanding: educate your reader without being preachy.
  • Near the end, clearly re-state your position and issue a call to action. Don't philosophize.
  • Have verve, and "fire in the gut" indignation to accompany your logical analysis.
  • Don't ramble or let your op-ed unfold slowly, as in an essay.
  • Use clear, powerful, direct language.
  • Emphasize active verbs, forget the adjectives and adverbs, which only weaken writing.
  • Avoid clichés and jargon.
  • Appeal to the average reader. Clarity is paramount.
  • Write 750 double-spaced words or less (fewer is always better).
  • Include a brief bio, along with your phone number, email address, and mailing address at the bottom.

Many major newspapers today accept timely op-eds by email. Check the paper's website first to be sure what its policy is. While it's tempting to fire off your op-ed to The New York Times, remember that there are many other major newspapers to consider.  The New York Times receives more op-eds daily than any other paper in the US, so competition is fierce. It's better to be published in another excellent paper than to be not published in The New York Times.

John McLain is a former journalist and now a national media consultant.  His second book, HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR HOME BUSINESS, was published in trade paperback in 
February 2002 by Metropolis Ink.
He is the owner of McLain Communications. 

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