Water Hub Blog

To op-ed or not … what’s the alternative?

If you’re in comms, submitting op-eds is probably part of your go-to arsenal of tactics. And if you’re an advocate, you’ve probably written one or tried to place one. But are they really an effective tool? 

Last month, a panel of media experts from Water Hub and Climate Nexus led To Op-Ed or Not: How to Be Heard In an Increasingly Noisy World — a workshop to discuss the present realities of pitching and placing op-eds given today’s media landscape.

(Presentation slides here and Zoom recording here – passcode: 5&q9tnFV) 

Here’s what we covered:

Key takeaways:

  • Pandemic pivots: Given the layoffs, furloughs, and drastic changes to journalism during pandemic, the way we pitch and what we pitch has to change.
  • Gatekeepers on guard: Gatekeeping — whether consciously or unconsciously — is a very real challenge. General managers, news directors, and editors decide what’s newsworthy. And everyone has their own lens/unconscious biases that they bring to that decision.
  • Strategy is always key: A media placement is not the end goal. It’s just a step in getting you toward a bigger goal.
    • When considering pitching an op-ed, ask yourself: Who’s the target audience? What is the ethnic makeup of the editors of the publication? How hard will it be to get them to consider my voice/expertise? Does the readership of this outlet align with the target audience and help move me toward my campaign goals?
    • Be honest about what your goals are. (Vanity, impressing donors, etc. can be the goal. Just own it!)
    • Don’t let your work go to waste. If you have an op-ed that didn’t get placed:
      • Consider additional pitches to online news outlets, trade press, and ethnic media (which may have been better aligned with your goals in the first place).
      • Try repurposing for other formats, like blogs (your org’s, Medium, LinkedIn), LTEs, an ed board memo, Tweet threads, etc. 
    • No matter where it ends up, remember to promote it. Even an op-ed at a top-tier outlet should have a promotion plan. Treat it (self-published or otherwise) like a mini-book tour. Who are you sending it to? Where are you linking to it? How can you use it in additional pitches or backgrounders to journalists, podcasters, etc. to interest them in covering this issue?
  • Better-aligned alternatives: There are many alternatives to pitching an op-ed that may be in better alignment with what you’re trying to accomplish. Getting real about your audience and goals will determine which of these is the best fit. But be honest about what’s going to be the most effective — not just an ego stroke.

If an op-ed REALLY is going to get your message to the audience you want, great. Go for it. But most often, it’s a lot of work for little payoff and doesn’t further actual campaign goals. And in this increasingly digital age, there are so many other ways to get the same message out to a the audience you’re actually targeting. 

Op-eds still have a place. But they’re overwhelmingly written by white male academics. Though progress is being made, many op-eds at major outlets still don’t reflect the voices, views, or experiences of the people living in those areas.

(Learn more about how I’m trying to change this by building voice and visibility for water experts of color … and redefining “expertise.)

I’m pretty solidly team #NoMoreOp-Eds, but still see the value when used very selectively and strategically … and have a solid promotion plan.

What do you think? What are some of the ways you’re adapting your pitching? What sort of things are you trying/implementing instead of or in addition to op-eds?