The jewel in the crown of public relations professionals everywhere has long been the op-ed. It’s an effective tool for laying out broad visions, establishing thought-leadership and impacting public policy.
But over the past several years, the op-ed ecosystem has changed in ways that is bedeviling many would-be authors and the PR professionals who help them.
Some smaller news sites that previously provided access to highly-sought-after audiences have done away with op-eds. For example, authors seeking to influence Capitol Hill lost the ability to opine on policy in Roll Call a few years ago, and tech-savvy thinkers seeking to pontificate on how technology is changing our world now will have to wait for TechCrunch to invite them to write, rather than being able to submit at will.
Meanwhile, larger news outlets are looking at op-eds as they do most items on their webpages — in terms of clicks and page views. To that end, they’re insisting on op-eds that are able to break news, are written by household names, include captivating personal narratives, or represent ever more radical or contrarian points of view.
To be sure, there are still many news organizations willing to accept a well-reasoned op-ed piece by a less well-known, but respected, scholar, thinker or businessman on a compelling issue of importance to its readers. But I wonder how long that will last.
As news platforms continue perfecting their sponsored content, or native ad, pitches, they may decide that they’re giving away too much content for free and try to move would-be opinion writers into paid formats. And the trend of op-ed editors growing leery of pieces they suspect may have been ghost written seems to be growing.
So, what can be done about this demoralizing trend? Well, authors and the PR professionals will have to adapt.
First, authors and PR professionals should undertake robust social media campaigns to share and highlight their op-eds that appear on media platforms that still take unsolicited submissions. While this may seem like a given, many authors and organizations don’t automatically leverage their connections and followers in this way. But social lift is crucial to driving web traffic back to the media outlet and proving the op-ed’s value to the platform.
Secondly, it’s clear that “safe” op-eds in which the author pulls his or her punches, makes a timid pitch or uses unassertive language are the most in danger. Authors and PR professionals need to be more creative and take more risks in what they’re willing to say in order to secure a hard-to-get spot in major newspapers. In general, that means using stronger and more forthright language to grab the reader’s attention.
If taking risks is unpalatable, however, organizations should use their own website blogs to get the message out. If an organization doesn’t have a public blog on its site, it should create one.
Finally, sponsored content has value. Organizations should take a look at the universe available to them and think about whether some messages and campaigns might benefit from spending money on native advertising, and PR professionals need to get smart quickly on what the pros and cons of sponsored content are for their clients.