Increasing Success with Op-Eds

Tips for taking advantage of opinion opportunities.

September 24, 2015

The fall semester is in full swing. Faculty are back on campus, settled into their courses and are eager to start writing. The news of the world—from the Pope’s visit and Obama’s new scorecard to FAFSA revisions and the 2016 presidential election—provides no shortage of op-ed opportunities. But just because recent news events seem to have gifted our institutions a plethora of topics to write about, doesn’t mean we should dive in headfirst.

Op-eds are time intensive—for both the writer and the person pitching. For that reason, they should be approached strategically, just like any other communication with the media. Here are a few recommendations to help you take advantage of the opinion opportunities that abound this semester. And following them will increase the chances of publication for your faculty.

Have a new idea -- a really, truly, new idea. You may conceive of an angle completely independent of any outside influence, but others often arrive at the same conclusions and get their ideas published first. Their speed renders your piece obsolete.

The solution is simple. Google before you write, especially if you are writing about well-covered (and opined about) topics, like Donald Trump, for example. And more importantly, search within the outlet(s) you plan to target. Your chances for success diminish substantially if they’ve already run something similar. And by similar, I mean anything remotely related to the topic you’re pitching. Competition for very limited op-ed space is fierce, which means your piece on the Pope’s visit to the U.S. isn’t likely to be published if an outlet has recently published something else—anything else—on the Pope on it’s opinion pages. Even if your angle is different, unless it is in direct opposition, it is unlikely to be placed.

Choose an angle with a current news hook that also has a long shelf life. It sounds a little like an oxymoron, but it is totally doable and the best formula for getting something published. Some news stories appear in the news cycle for only a day or two. If you’re pegging your op-ed to those two-cycle stories, chances are you will miss your window. The moment will have passed and editors will have moved on to even newer content. Other topics, however, are current, but also buy you a bit more time to write and pitch the piece, including to multiple outlets, if necessary. When you’re choosing a topic to write about, consider the larger issues and implications of a particular topic in the news, rather than a single news incident. This approach will provide significantly more placement opportunities.

Work those relationships. Op-ed editors need love, too. Relationships are key in this business, but I’m often surprised to learn how little energy some people spend building relationships with op-ed editors—especially compared with the relationships they cultivate with higher ed beat reporters. There’s no denying it’s time consuming to build and maintain relationships, but opinion editors will be much more likely to read the pieces you submit and provide feedback if they know and trust you. They’re also more likely to solicit op-eds from your faculty members if they know you can deliver. And having an editor come to you for pieces is the ultimate opportunity. In other words, taking the time up front to establish solid relationships can make the work of writing and pitching op-eds easier, quicker and more successful.

Opinion pieces are highly visible, powerful and influential media real estate. They are worth the time it takes to strategically work towards placements. By keeping the above tips in mind, you are more likely to succeed, something your faculty and administration will notice and appreciate.


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