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How to: Gain authority through op-eds

We all have opinions — individuals and organizations. Does that make everyone qualified as an authority to publish an opinion piece? Certainly not. Pitching and publishing op-eds requires a strong opinion + research/facts on the issue + evidence of expertise related to the topic. Op-eds can be an opportunity for brand exposure but business leaders and communications professionals should evaluate the pros and cons of gaining authority through op-eds.

Many C-level professionals, senior leadership, scholars, healthcare specialists and scientists have strong opinions on everything from climate change to immigration policies supported by a career’s worth of knowledge, experience and education. Combine that credibility with a powerful stance on an important issue and you might have the ingredients of a compelling op-ed.

Is publishing an op-ed the right choice for your business? Start by asking these questions internally:

Does the issue intersect with your brand’s mission or vision? Op-eds are an opportunity for a business and its spokesperson to make one clear point on a topic that is already making headlines. The topic will usually be one directly relating to the client’s industry or customer base about an issue of regional/national interest. In some cases, the connection might not be as obvious and can be a unique opportunity for the author to earn visibility in front of a diverse readership. Their stance could be for or against the issue but there should be a clear connection between the author, the organization and the issue.

What are the benefits of sharing your stance on this issue? Op-eds can be an effective way to clearly align your organization on one side of a complex issue and influence public opinion. They can also raise the visibility of key members of your team to a broader audience. Put thought not only into what your op-ed is communicating, but also who is sending out that direct message. While a CEO authored opinion piece might demonstrate how strongly the company feels about the issue, another internal stakeholder may have the expertise and unique perspective to write on the issue.

What are the risks? If the opinion is actually just a business announcement disguised as an opinion, you risk your communications team’s credibility when pitching the media. Use a different tactic, such as a press release, blog post or email newsletter to announce a new product or celebrate a corporate award. If your op-ed is published, there are always risks associated with speaking up. Are you comfortable with online reader commentary and engagement directly with the author? Is your leadership team confident and comfortable that the stance may polarize the brand among customers or employees? Even if polarization is likely, the op-ed may still be worth pursuing but your team should prioritize this risk/benefit analysis early in your process.

If you decide an op-ed is the appropriate channel to communicate your stance, keep these tips in mind when writing:

  1. Make it relevant. You might be speaking out on a topic that requires a timely response, or one that has otherwise been gaining traction. It’s helpful to give readers a frame of reference that outlines why this conversation is happening now. Consider including a link to that publication’s recent article(s) on the issue.

  2. Make one clear point. Don’t try to cater to both sides. Be transparent and state the opinion that only you are uniquely able to have.

  3. Back it up. Use facts and stats to back up your claim and strengthen your argument.

  4. Don’t sell. This isn’t a sales pitch. A convincing argument for the point you’re trying to make will allow your message to stand on its own while still driving enough attention that interested readers will want to know who you represent. Don’t weave brand speak into the op-ed.

  5. Include a call to action. What can readers do to follow your lead?

  6. Keep it short and sweet. This is not the place to wax poetic. In addition to most media outlets sticking to a word limit of 250 to 750 words, you want to capture and retain your readers’ attention by making a concise, compelling argument for your point.

We saw Machias Savings Bank have success with raising awareness of a timely issue through an op-ed last year. CEO Larry Barker stepped in to author a piece on restrictions facing Maine’s lobster industry. The commentary was subsequently picked up by Saving Seafood and Fishery Nation, resulting in further visibility within the fishing community.

The bank, with its Downeast Maine roots, has served countless fishing industry clients over the years, and many employees have personal connections to the industry. Speaking out on this issue seemed like an obvious choice for those aware of this history, but it also provided an opportunity for the bank to showcase its character in front of its newer, growing audience in southern Maine.

Fluent IMC is a Maine marketing agency specializing in integrated marketing communications. Our expertise ranges from brand strategy and marketing planning to digital marketing and online advertising to public relations and communications.

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