Placing opinion articles in national publications can be a great way to get exposure for your business or brand. But most commissioning editors get dozens of pitches every day. So how can you make sure yours stands out from the crowd? Read on and find out...
Read opinion articles
I know, I know... it sounds obvious, but it’s only by reading lots of opinion articles and noticing how they’re put together (that’s everything from the headline to the way the argument is constructed) that you’ll really start to understand what editors are looking for.
Use the three comment article ‘archetypes’ to help you develop your pitches
An effective opinion article generally centres on one single point (sometimes referred to as the ‘top line) and you’ll usually find that point made - or at least referred to in some way - in the headline.
Having studied lots of examples, I think there are three main types of opinion article (you could probably break it down into more, but I’ll keep it simple for now). These are:
Call to action
Urges the reader to take action or consider a particular point of view. As in these examples from the Guardian's Comment is Free:
Poses a question to the reader, often urging them to consider an alternative - or often controversial - point of view. As in these examples:
Makes a bold statement, that is surprising, controversial or evokes curiosity in the reader. Like these:
The most important thing is that your ‘top line’ makes people feel something. This could be anything from self-righteousness (as in ‘YES! I totally agree’) to embarrassment to seething rage - the crucial thing is that it evokes emotion in some way.
Keep pitches short
If you want to get an editor’s attention, you need to hit them with that ‘top line’ in both the email header and the first line of your pitch (or first few seconds, if you’re pitching over the phone).
It sounds easy, but from my experience working as an editor, it’s something lots of people find hard. They end up putting so much information in their pitch, it’s difficult to work out what they actually want to say.
Remember that less is more; if your ‘top line’ is clear and compelling, an editor can always ask for more information. If they’re not sure what you’re trying to say, they’ll probably pass on your idea.
For more about developing great pitches read Five things you should do if you're serious about improving your pitching skills or Do you get nervous about pitching to journalists over the phone? Read this.
Look at what works...and keep it on file
Ever read an opinion article and thought ‘I/we could have done that’? Perhaps it was written by someone at a ‘rival’ business or organisation. Or someone from your industry with similar knowledge and experience. Maybe - and this can be particularly galling - it was penned by someone with less of whatever you have to offer.
Next time, don’t complain - keep it on file.
Analysing what editors have commissioned and why (perhaps there was a killer ‘top’ line or it was ‘hooked’ to current news story or upcoming event, for example) can be a really effective way to sharpen up your understanding of what works for opinion articles.
And keeping examples of compelling ‘top lines’ (like the examples in the images above) on file can also be useful.I use the note taking software Evernote, which has an ace web clipping tool, to collect examples.
When you start to put together a pitch, go back and take a look at them.
Seeing what works - in black and white - can be a really powerful reminder of what you need to do to get editors’ attention.
Think beyond your ‘chief broom’
Don’t assume your CEO or head honcho is the right person to put their name to an opinion article. In fact, unless they have interesting things to say and/or are comfortable with expressing their views in the media, they can actually be the worst choice.
Editors are always looking for fresh voices and someone who has personal experience of the issues you want to raise may have a much more compelling argument (even if you have to write it on their behalf).
In a 24/7 news culture, things move fast. So if you see an opportunity to pitch an opinion article, you can’t hang about (unlike the person who pitched me an idea three days after this story about the parents who sent a bill to a five-year-old boy who failed to attend a party).
Do be aware that if your pitch is successful, you may be required to turn 6-800 words (the typical length of an opinion article) around within a few hours. So it’s fine to put ‘time sensitive’ or ‘timely response needed’ in your email subject header (or something similar) along with your top line; in fact this can be helpful for a busy journalist or editor.
And if you want to get the name of the editor who can make a decision about your pitch (and, no, you mustn't pitch to generic email addresses on newspaper websites - in many cases, they're rarely checked) pick up the phone and find out who's on the comment desk that day. Anything else is just wasting time.
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