ALA has posted a fantastic video from the annual conference featuring Tom McNamee, Chicago Sun Times, on how to get your op-ed letters published. The term “op-ed” means opposite the editorial. In newspapers, an op-ed piece is usually placed on the page opposite an editorial. We've been including op-eds as part of our marketing strategy for the State Library here in NJ and I urge all of you to add it to your repertoire.
Here are the key points Tom points out in the video:
- Keep them to 400- 500 words ( I suggest you call your editor and ask them or do a word count in the paper you are sending it to.)
- Have something worth saying
- Tell a story
- No matter how important your story is, remember that people will only read it if it entertains them
We've also learned that you need to plan your op-eds because chances are your paper isn't going to publish your op-ed every month (they call those columns). My departments plans on two op-eds a year and try to connect them to both a major campaign we're running and larger issues facing communities. Our larger papers want responses or solutions to problems and won't even go near anything that sounds like an infomercial, even for National Library Week.
Make sure the topic is relevant to the paper's readers. A great place to start is by reading the the headlines, knowing what discussions are taking place at council meetings or just listening to what your customers are talking about when they come to the library.
Keep your op-ed customer centric.
Tom talks about incorporating stories in your op-ed. I couldn't agree with him more. Make sure your are writing about your customers and how your library is solving problems for them. I write on how to create a short strategic story in my book, Bite-Sized Marketing, and will be giving a workshop at ALA annual, but the basic formula is really simple. Be sure to stay away from stories that simply praise your library like, "I couldn't live without my library!" Instead find stories about your customers where the library has solved a problem like "I lost my job and the new career center helped me fill out applications online."
1. Introduce your character
2. Tell the problem he or she is facing
3. Show how the library resolved the problem
You could also have your local newspaper write an editorial about your library. We've found that some smaller local papers will sometimes take a well written piece and run it as their editorial. But for the larger papers you'll need to call for an appointment to meet with the editorial board. These boards usually consist of the editorial page editor, editor writers and maybe subject specialists. You might consider this approach for larger topics such as funding issues, closures, essential services, etc. Know your position and outline a presentation in an easy to follow format (bullet points are great). Include background information and links to facts. Invite relevant people to attend the meeting with you. We brought several people who could give first hand testimony of the impact the loss of funding would have on various institutions and businesses when we met an editorial board regarding editorial support for the restoration of funding for a initiative. Also make sure you have an understanding of all sides of the issue and be prepared to discuss why your perspective deserves support.
Letters to the Editor
Don't overlook another great tool, the Letter to the Editor. This format is perfect for your supporters to spread a positive message about how your library is an added value to the community. These are great tools for the Friends, foundations, teens and parents groups. Ask people to keep the letters short and specific. Make sure they include how the library solved a problem for them and how that action could help everyone in the community.
Your library can write a letter to the editor to praise the work of volunteers that made an event successful,to thank staff for extraordinary effort, to thank elected officials for their support, community members for their help and support, etc. The possibilities are endless. Keep the letters short, to the point and make sure to connect it to the fact that the library is valuable to your community.
Another great place to post your appreciation is on blogs. You can either post them directly to your blog or add them as comment to community or news blogs. The same goes in the 140 character realm of Twitter. And of course, never overlook the opportunity to post your
op-eds or letter directly to news websites.