College campuses are rife with experts, whether it be the president, dean of admissions or faculty member who knows everything there is to know about the day’s big story.
Newsjacking – what we call the practice of connecting experts to reporters covering trending news – often can enable their thoughts to be heard, but all too often their expertise goes unnoticed. The next time that happens, try getting opinionated.
Opinions, or op/eds, can be a valuable part of your communications arsenal. While it takes some practice (see my previous post about “The Art of the Opinion”), a well-crafted opinion piece can be the perfect way for your expert to stand out on a newsworthy topic.
Here are a few tips to consider when considering pitching an opinion piece.
Be realistic (and communicate that to your expert)
The New York Times receives more than 2,000 opinion submissions in a given week. While the odds of a placement aren’t quite as long as a Powerball drawing, they aren’t good. The piece needs to be better than good. And it helps to be timely. If it’s not, don’t be shy in telling your expert the chances may be remote for a huge national outlet, but that you can try. Just have a smaller – or local – fallback in mind.
Some opinion editors, particularly those with whom you may have a relationship, will field a question or two about an idea. Before your expert goes to the trouble of writing a piece, ask the editor if he or she would be interested in a piece about the topic. We recently had an expert who wanted to write about Bob Dylan being awarded The Nobel Prize for literature. We tested the waters. One major outlet’s editor said they already had a ton of pieces. We pivoted and turned to another major outlet, which said it might be interested. Our expert quickly drafted the piece. It wasn’t accepted by that editor, but his feedback provided guidance for the piece, which ultimately settled in another major daily.
Placing a piece in the Wall Street Journal or USA Today would make quite an impression. But it shouldn’t necessarily determine success. As mentioned above, the bar for those outlets is extraordinarily high. Local, meaning local outlets as well as statewide outlets, might have similar standards but often look kindly on opinions from experts nearby. And several solid opinion placements in statewide dailies might be the fodder you need when showcasing your expert’s writing chops to a big-time national outlet – or serve as background on an expert pitch to a reporter covering that beat.