More and more, clients and their customers want to catch the attention of major media players like the New York Times, The Hill, Harvard Business Review, and other publications of similar prestige. Since the mainstream media isn’t in the business of free advertising, getting interviews for CEOs in such publications is extremely challenging, requiring peer-reviewed data, a major customer willing to speak on the record, and some serious evidence to back any claim. Even if all of these pieces exist, putting them together can be daunting.
A simpler path to success exists in the form of op-eds – opinion pieces from a thought leader taking a meaningful stance on an issue they’re passionate about. It’s still a challenge to get the attention of national media, but from my perspective as a media relations professional, most of the problems with op-eds lie in the author playing it too safe or trying to keep all messaging on brand instead of taking the firm, fervent stance that’s necessary to get such an op-ed placed.
Speaking from the perspective of someone in public relations, national media op-eds can be coordinated, ghost written, polished, and promoted by an agency. However, if you’re an executive or potential thought leader reading this, listen carefully – the success is largely dependent on you. Getting a major op-ed placed is dependent upon what positions you’re willing to take, whose feathers you’re willing to ruffle, and whether or not you’re ready to have your own voice.
Based on my own experience working in public relations and marketing for nearly a decade – speaking to editors whose job it is to decide what gets published and what does not – I can offer a series of tips for success.
Bylines and company blogs allow for a certain safety and flexibility that you can’t take with a national media op-ed. While there is always this compulsion to stick to branding and loosely talk about the products a company sells, if a CEO wants to land a major op-ed, this behavior must be avoided. If you want national media coverage – or even letters to the editor – for yourself, you have to be willing to take strong positions that don’t directly relate to a product or service that your business is selling.
For example, if you’re a company that sells secure text messaging to hospitals or healthcare organizations, an article on why secure texting mops the floor with out-of-date pagers is certainly in line with your branding. But if you’re expecting a major publication like STAT to take this position seriously, you’re not paying attention to the content you, as a consumer and a person, choose to read.
Simply put, you need to take a firm, shareable, position. Sometimes, that means talking about an issue that’s only loosely in the wheelhouse of your company or brand. For example, if the same CEO of a secure messaging vendor writes an article on how the HITECH Act created an interoperability problem by hastily subsidizing EHRs, that may not seem directly related to the product you sell. But that isn’t the point.
The point is, now a CEO of a notable company is expressing his/her individual opinion. It’s mildly inflammatory, perhaps, and a little risky – but that just means it’s worth reading. Total safety will get you nowhere when it comes to an op-ed, and the more opinionated and specific you’re willing to be, the more your piece will have the substance necessary to create some waves.
When you operate outside of trade media, you have to take a strong position. While the sales department will be a little mad anytime a potential customer feels alienated, taking somewhat controversial and bold stances is still great for branding. A CEO worth talking to is someone journalists will come back to for quotes and opinions on a variety of topics, from new policy decisions to emerging technologies, and that popularity could certainly translate to success in the market.
Ask Yourself: What Would a Columnist say?
Let’s use another example: You’re the Chief Medical Officer for an e-prescription solution that securely allows for the prescribing of opioids and other controlled substances. Without even loosely mentioning your product, a myriad of opportunities exist to associate your name and brand with a hot button issue without seeming promotional. But it will come at the cost of taking some risks.
Perhaps you have a personal opinion about the war on drugs you’re willing to discuss, from how drug companies profit from the black market opioid crisis to how addiction funnels money into private prisons. It may seem shocking to even consider, but isn’t this the kind of thing a notable, successful columnist writes about? If they aren’t willing to speak out, they wouldn’t have their own voice and no one would syndicate anything they write.
Letters to the editor and contributed national op-eds must follow this same logic. Speaking to my clients, I realize the pressure to play it safe can seem reasonable. But in case you haven’t noticed, it’s 2019 and crazy things are happening all over the globe. Major, successful billionaire entrepreneurs are smoking cannabis on comedian Joe Rogan’s podcast, and the President of the United States of America is a reality TV star who rose to popularity by taking brash positions. And, his hobbies include tweeting offensive opinions at fellow celebrities, so that the average person can be entertained and/or horrified by the resulting coverage.
While certainly the latter anecdote leaves a lot to be desired in terms of thoughtfulness and facts, the Trump phenomenon stands as an example that being safe isn’t going to cut it anymore. Ineffectual drivel is no longer something the media pays attention to, because the public is done hearing it. In the age of social media and constant information, standing out means standing up and being a little loud.
Make Yourself Heard – Loudly
Let me be blunt: If you’re writing something that doesn’t point some fingers, doesn’t tick anyone off, doesn’t take a strong stance, and doesn’t elicit an emotional response for the average, everyday person – Forbes and the New York Times are never, ever going to publish it.
If you want national press for yourself and your business, you are going to have to operate on 2019 terms, and that means addressing a pressing issue or taking a stance that not a lot of executives are likely to have.
Speaking for myself, I read and donate to several publications, and the reason I read them is because they have valuable insights to share. They grow me as a person when I read them, and they stand out above the noise. If I share an article with friends or on social media, it’s because it’s genuinely unique and worth sharing, and any potential op-ed must share those qualities in order to earn the attention of readers.
Consumer media will not operate on trade media terms – no matter how cool a spokesman and their product may be, they need to have something interesting to say or no one is going to read it. And if no one is going to read it, the national press is not going to publish it.
If you’re working on a national media op-ed right now or plan to write one in the future, I offer this golden rule: Would someone who has never heard of your company, or you, read the article and share it with their friends on social media? If not, then consumer media and national press are not going to care.
If you want to be a serious columnist in addition to your day job, get ready to make yourself heard by being a little brave. While it’s risky, the payoff of having a recognized column in a huge paper like the New York Times could be huge, especially in the age of personality-drive entrepreneurs and public officials.