Group Gordon’s Alex O’Connor offers up the secrets behind placing an op-ed at the speed of the news cycle.
You want to write an op-ed. Or someone wants you to write an op-ed for them. Or a group of people want you to write an op-ed on their behalf.
If you’re writing an op-ed for someone else, especially a CEO, president, or organization leader, then you’ll likely need to get approval before pitching the piece to an editor for placement. But getting approval takes time, and the key to successfully placing an op-ed is moving fast.
A great way to place an op-ed in a high-profile outlet is to connect it to a piece of trending news. If you work in health care, you could connect an op-ed to new health care legislation, like insulin copay caps (more on that example later). If you work in housing, you could connect an op-ed to expiring eviction moratoriums. If you work in green energy, you could connect an op-ed to new data on climate change. And so on. But getting approval from relevant team members while responding to the 24-hour news cycle is not realistic for most nonprofits or companies. If you write an op-ed in the morning, chances are not everyone is going to provide feedback by the end of the day. So here is the trick: the news cycle repeats itself.
The first step is to decide what you want to write the op-ed about, and it needs to be newsworthy. You can’t write an op-ed that is (entirely) promotional; you need to make a comment or an argument for something that the world needs or needs to change. The topic should be something specific that the organization or nonprofit wants, like a healthcare organization writing a piece advocating for a cap on copays for insulin because that’s something that would benefit their patients. Once you’ve decided what the cause or issue that your organization wants to promote (or argue against), you can circulate it amongst your team, get the necessary approvals, make edits, and after a few weeks (or months!) you’ll have a finished op-ed, ready to pitch. But you still need a hook.
At the time of writing, insulin copays are set to be capped at $35 this January (yay!), but this is old news now (boo!), so the op-ed we wrote calling on legislators to pass a bill capping insulin—that wasn’t approved in time to pitch before the law was passed—is doomed. Or is it? In January, there will be more articles about insulin copay caps. Our op-ed about why insulin shouldn’t break the bank for people with diabetes will be relevant again once there is national movement on the issue. All we have to do is change the opening paragraph to fit the new angle. “From this January on, people with diabetes are going to pay a reasonable and fair price for insulin. Here is why that is a good thing…”
To set yourself up for success, make the bulk of the piece as evergreen as possible—meaning not connected to topical news. By using data, touching stories, history, anecdotes, or other immovable pieces of rhetoric, it won’t take months to edit your op-ed to fit a new hook. Ideally, it will only take 30 minutes to change the first sentence or so.
Maybe that example seems too obvious to you, but I guarantee that the news cycle repeats itself on most topics. If you monitor the news, you will find a hook for your op-ed, even if you wrote it months ago. If your piece is well-researched and makes a clear argument, then connecting to a piece of relevant news can be the perfect way to get it published. Just hyperlink the article in the first sentence that proves your piece is timely and relevant.
If you monitor the news and are creative with how to link hot news topics to your thesis, then you can quickly respond to the latest headlines with an op-ed. You may have written the thing months ago, but your secret is safe with me.