Op-eds. Bylines. Contributed insights. Guest posts. Thought leadership pieces. They go by many names depending on the PR firm or company calling the shots, but the role of self-authored content has changed much over the past several years, and every PR practitioner or media relations professional must know how to pitch an op-ed.
Time was, op-eds and bylines (what we at FischTank PR call them, for the most part) were used primarily to impact policy and influence members of the public, often done at both national and even the most regional levels. Readers were used to guest articles in their daily papers, just as they were in national media outlets like The Hill, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and so many others.
Now? Many want to know how to pitch an op-ed, because they’re everywhere. The internet has made this possible, of course, by so easily enabling self-publishing. Now everyone from mainstream media, daily newspapers, trade magazines, online news sites, and everyone in-between accepts guest authored content. Companies regardless of size are finding their voice and publishing their insights here, there and everywhere to reach their audiences and create an online footprint (we’ll get to SEO/ORM later).
But how does one do it effectively, and what are the longer term results when the article is forgotten? Let’s go deeper.
How to pitch an op-ed?
First, let’s dispel any notion that a pay-for-play self-publishing platform is editorial. It’s not. A financial transaction with a publisher in exchange for controlled, reviewed content is more advertising, branding and SEO/ORM, and not at media relations.
Impactful, sure. But an op-ed? No.
This is important because it should frame the PR practitioner or author’s narrative. An effective op-ed or byline is one that is informative, factual and unbiased, meaning it is intended to educate the reader, not promote oneself or one’s product. Start there, because if your goal is to write about how great your company is, save it for a pay for play, or your own blog. Knowing how to pitch an op-ed means knowing money shouldn’t be exchanged.
To start, think about what you or your business/organization knows cold, and how that information could be helpful to a reader, be they a consumer, member of the public, investor, industry partner or other. Once you have identified a topic, don’t start writing! Now is when you or your PR team reaches out to an editor or publisher somewhere with a media pitch:
“Hi Stevie, this is Mick from (company name) I thought your readers would be interested in a piece on (insert messaging), which is important to them because of (insert factual impact, not conjecture). It would touch on (more messaging), all based on our experience at (company name) where we do (explain why you’re a source).”
What does this pitch do? One, it shows that you’re writing something for the right reasons – because you have insights that are meaningful to readers. Two, you outline the suggested theme of your piece, which enables the editor to provide constructive feedback on what should be included, bringing you closer to securing the opportunity. Three, by sharing your background, you may create further opportunities to contribute content, or with some publications, may result in you becoming a regular interview source.
Fourth, and of great importance to companies with busy executives everywhere, it’s a productive use of time. Asking a swamped CEO or other executive to write an op-ed first before pitching it is a surefire way to discourage a successful op-ed/byline campaign. It’s difficult to do without parameters, and when the piece inevitably meets resistance from editors and reporters, the CEO/executive gets flustered and feels like they wrote something for nothing, which may be true.
By contrast, having an approved op-ed/byline opportunity to present to a CEO or executive gives them better assurance that it will run since the editor is expecting it, and also provides more clear guidelines and deadlines.
Once the piece is drafted – internal feedback is necessary. If the article isn’t informative, is promotional, or just doesn’t read well – the editor will care and the piece may die. Take a position, have a voice, be controversial (within reason), and put yourself out there. Make sure your attribution to the author is correct, and include a hyperlink to the corporate or association’s URL.
Then hit send.
Backlinks and staying power.
A well written byline for an intended audience can be used in business development and sales efforts, as an investor relations tool, for advertising purposes, and many other marketing and communications tactics.
But one overlooked area is related to SEO and ORM, the two most discussed aspects of online search. Most articles that are published in trade publications and newspapers live online forever, as do all online news site contributions (obviously). Those links in your author’s byline matter! Short sighted op-ed and byline submissions can have long-term effects, so it’s best to think about the big picture when writing one.
First, try to avoid submitting over and over to the same publications, or writing constantly about the same topics (unless that’s how your business will remain, forever). Repetition is no good, and if you continue to have the same news site include a link to your company discussing the same subject, the SEO and ORM juice is no longer worth the squeeze.
If you want to write about the same topic over and over, remember that the internet has a long memory. Don’t pigeonhole yourself as an expert on only one subject, unless you want that subject to be what you’re known for ten years later.
Op-eds and bylines are an integral part of any media strategist, communicator/marketer or PR practitioner’s toolbox. Remember that editors review content based on how informative it is to their readers, work through a process that manages time and resources effectively, and have a long-term strategy in place for influencing the public and your respective audience.