public relations

How to Write Op-Eds That Change the Conversation

A well-placed op-ed can help you call attention to an important issue or change minds about a controversial topic.

How to Write Op-Eds Whitepaper

The explosive op-ed written by a senior member of the Trump administration that was published this week in The New York Times is an extreme example.

But op-eds can also be incredibly useful for nonprofits and companies that are looking to inspire action in local and national markets.

Op-eds explained

Unlike reported news stories, op-eds are opinion pieces written by those who aren’t on the staff of a newspaper, magazine or website. They offer outside voices the opportunity to express opinions and share ideas in their own words.

Traditionally, they appear opposite the editorial page (hence the name, op-ed), which is where the newspaper’s editorial board expresses its opinion on important issues.

Why op-eds matter

While newspapers don’t quite carry the same influence they once did, op-eds can nonetheless be valuable tools for those looking to raise awareness about a problem or issue.

In fact, one could argue that op-eds have more influence than ever.

That’s because a published op-ed not only appears in the newspaper, it also appears online, which gives you the opportunity to point to it on your own site, in blog posts, and through social media.

But, as is the case with pitching stories, it’s a challenge to get news outlets to run your opinion piece.

Newspapers and other outlets only have the resources and space to run a limited number of op-eds. As result, competition for these pieces can be fierce.

How can you get your opinion published?

We've helped a number of organizations and individuals write and place high-impact op-eds -- and we've learned a few tricks along the way to maximize our odds of getting these pieces published.

Download this free e-book to learn our 5-step process for writing and placing op-eds that change minds and inspire action.

How to Plan a Media Tour

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Mark Vletter

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Mark Vletter

If you're like most nonprofit communicators, your go-to move is to send a press release to the media whenever your organization announces something new.

But if you have been disappointed with the results of your releases, it might be time to try a different approach: getting your top leader out of the office and in front of the journalists you're counting on to tell your story.

In recent months, I've been setting up media tours for nonprofits and foundations in which an executive or expert within the organization sets aside a day or two to meet informally with key reporters and editors -- and these tours have generated some terrific results.

While it requires an investment of time -- and some serious preparation -- a media tour can be an incredibly valuable exercise for organizations that are looking to build a lasting media presence. A media tour can be especially helpful when your organization is looking to:

  • introduce a new leader who is looking to articulate his or her vision for your organization to the public

  • launch a significant new initiative

  • bolster the reputation of a thought leader within your organization

  • release a new strategic plan

  • break into a new media market

  • target a national audience

At a time when most outreach to news outlets occurs virtually, there's real value in finding opportunities to meet in person. By having your leaders sit across the table from a reporter or editor, you're able to demonstrate their expertise, build rapport, show their passion for your organization's work, and (perhaps most importantly) learn more about what the journalist is working on and cares about.

In turn, you are likely to develop a relationship that can lead to ongoing opportunities to tell your story and show your expertise. We've found that even one positive face-to-face meeting with a journalist can put you top of mind whenever that journalist is looking for sources for future stories.

You become a go-to source that they know and trust.

But before you decide to clear your executive director's schedule for a day of press meetings, keep in mind that successful media tours require quite a bit of planning, preparation, and persistence.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider setting up a tour:

Be Selective -- Before you begin, have a goal in mind. If you're launching a new program, for instance, identify the key audiences you need to reach for your program to succeed and then take time to identify a handful of reporters and editors who work at outlets that reach those audiences.

Set a Realistic Timeline -- Your organization's leaders are busy people -- and so are journalists. To get on their schedules (and to ensure that you're not wasting your own time), begin the process of setting up your tour at least 3-4 weeks ahead of time. This will allow you to get on journalists' calendars before they fill up, identify potential conflicts, and work through your target list in order of priority. This also leaves enough time in the process to research the journalists you're meeting with, develop briefing materials (more on this shortly!), and prepare for the meetings.

Leave White Space -- If you're setting up one day of media meetings as part of your tour, you'll likely feel the urge to pack the day with as many meetings as possible. But a packed schedule can lead to rushed meetings, late appearances, and stress. A realistic tour more likely includes a pair of morning meetings, a break for lunch, and a pair of afternoon meetings -- and 30 minutes to an hour of unscheduled time between each meeting to accommodate travel time and conversations that run long.

Do Your Homework -- Conduct as much research about each journalist you're meeting with as you can. Read their bios. Study their recent coverage online. Follow them on Twitter and other social networks. This will help you understand what they care about and identify ways in which you can help them moving forward.

Prepare a Briefing -- Each time we set up an in-person meeting between a source and a reporter, we create a written briefing that includes goals, key talking points, background about the reporter and his or her work, and logistical details about the meeting itself (where it will take place, whether it's on or off the record, how long the meeting is scheduled for, etc.). This material helps the source prepare for the conversation -- and it's especially important for a source who is preparing for multiple meetings on the same day.

Be Flexible -- The news business can be unpredictable. When news breaks, a reporter might have to cancel or reschedule a meeting at the last minute -- or, in some cases, have another reporter fill in if he or she can't be there. We recommend checking in a week ahead and then a day ahead of your scheduled meeting to be sure nothing has changed -- and to be prepared for the unlikely (but still real) possibility of a last-minute cancellation. Make sure you prepare your source for that possibility as well. And, if you do have a cancellation, use it as an opportunity to pivot and either set up a future meeting or call or to pitch a story.

Anticipate the Unexpected -- Plan to join your leader for the tour -- and be ready for anything. We recommend having a plan set up for transportation (either serving as the driver yourself or coordinating to make sure you have someone who can get you from point A to point B on time) -- and making sure you have a stealth supply of snacks, an umbrella, a stain stick, and more so that you can deal with whatever curve balls are thrown at you. You should also have some leave behind materials that you can give to the reporters and editors who meet with you.

Take Notes -- While your leader is fielding questions and sharing his or her perspectives, make sure you're there to document and take notes. Pay special attention to unanswered questions, follow-up items, and opportunities for future coverage.

Follow Up -- Once your day is over, follow up directly with each media member to thank them for their time, provide promised information, and coordinate next steps.

As you can see, a media tour isn't a small lift. But it will likely provide you with relationships and sustained coverage that you can't get through press releases.

The 5 Things Reporters Really Want From P.R. Pros

Roger H. Goun, via Creative Commons

Roger H. Goun, via Creative Commons

When you open your e-mail box, which messages are you most likely to open: generic messages from unknown senders or personal notes sent by someone you know?

The answer to this question is obvious, right? You’re going to open the personal message first.

And you’re more likely to trust that message than you would a message that comes from a stranger.

Effective media relations relies on the same idea. The nonprofits that are often most effective at earning headlines do so because they've positioned themselves as trusted sources.

They didn't develop their reputations through sending cookie-cutter press releases a few times a year. Instead, they put in the work to get to know what journalists really want -- and they took the time to position themselves as reliable sources who can deliver.

Journalists, after all, are people.  Busy people who have a lot of folks who are vying for their attention.

But while each journalist has her own tastes and needs, we do have some clues that can help you determine those tastes and needs.

This week's release of  The Cision 2017 State of the Media Report provides some interesting insights into what today's journalists are looking for from media relations professionals.

To compile the report, Cision surveyed more than 1,550 North American journalists and influencers -- and that survey offers some important takeaways for nonprofits who are looking to step up their media relations game.

Here are 5 key things you should know from the survey:

1. Know What They Cover Before You Pitch

If you've read any of my other posts on media relations, you already know that I strongly advise against sending a generic release to your entire media list.

In my experience, reporters HATE getting generic releases.

The Cision survey backs up this advice. When asked how PR professionals can improve, 72.8 percent said "tailoring the pitch to suit my beat/coverage". Another 82.5 percent said "researching/understanding my media outlet."

"A major complaint from journalists is that they receive too much spam and irrelevant pitches that sour their relationships with communicators," the Cision report said. "'Batch and blast' methods don't work and are counterproductive."

Sending 2-3 personalized pitches to high-value outlets is going to get you much farther than a generic pitch to 100.

It takes a bit more time up front, but the results are almost always going to be better.

2. Don't Bother Calling

Journalists overwhelmingly prefer to get pitches via email. More than 9 in 10 -- 92 percent -- said email is the preferred channel for pitches.

Meanwhile, only 2 percent said they like to get pitches over the phone -- and many of them report that phone pitches are strictly off limits.

During my days as a journalist, I hated getting cold pitches from people over the phone. I considered such pitches a waste of time and eventually screened calls from numbers I didn't recognize.

Journalists spend a lot of time calling sources. And they're often willing to take calls from folks they know. But unless you're on a first-name basis with that journalist, don't ring her phone.

Send an email instead.

3.  They Want Your Expertise

More often than not, journalists aren't relying on PR pitches for story ideas. They often find stories during the course of working their beats and talking to people.

What they do need, though, are experts -- people who they can rely on to provide context, facts, and commentary to help with their reporting.

Smart PR professionals understand this and take the time to let reporters know about the executive director or board member who really understands health care or environmental issues. They often share reports and data outside of the context of a pitch.

If your reports and data are useful, they will likely be cited in future reporting.

If your experts are credible, they'll reach out when they need access to their opinions.

Again, the Cision report backs up this notion.

Roughly half of journalists surveyed said PR professionals would serve them better by providing them with information and expert services.

4. Sharing Shows Caring

Want to build credibility with a journalist?


Retweet one of her news stories. Share his latest think piece on Facebook. Embed the video of a recent TV news report mentioning your nonprofit on your website.

Nearly 1 in 3 journalists in the Cision survey said PR professionals could do a better job of sharing their stories on social media.

My takeaway: journalists are paying attention to who is sharing their work. And doing so can help you become top of mind when they're looking for sources in the future.

After all, you draw more bees with honey than with vinegar.

5. Pictures -- Still Worth A Thousand Words

The Cision survey includes another important nugget -- that staff photographers are providing fewer images than in the past.

Increasingly, news organizations are relying on newswires, stock images, and sources for images to accompany their pieces.

This means you shouldn't be shy about making it clear to journalists that you can provide photos, graphics, and other visual materials.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that you should approach your relationships with journalists as you would any of the other valuable relationships in your life.

By taking the time to listen and understand their needs -- and being willing to share -- you will achieve much better results than you will be simply pitching them.

This post is part of an ongoing series that Peter contributes to Nonprofit Marketing Guide on media relations for nonprofits. For more advice on communications, marketing and PR for nonprofits, we encourage you to explore NMG.