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Get Your Utility’s Point of View Known

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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner Freelancer

I hold 34 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

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  • Apr 29, 2022
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One of my new duties at my regular job is to go out and visit with prominent members of the community – usually organization leaders.

The main purpose is to fly my newspaper’s flag, so to speak, but invariably, the discussion turns to how the organization can obtain coverage. After I share the kinds of things we’re likely to write about, I present another option: writing an op-ed.

Many news outlets, mine included, are in desperate need of local opinion pieces. We can always pull syndicated material, but that will focus on national or international issues. And a lot of it is predictable, especially when it comes from syndicated columnists.

The problem we often have with local contributors is that many are poor writers or just don’t know how to write an op-ed.

A typical problem is that the writers produce something promotional instead of discussing a topic that’s of relevance to the community.

For example, if someone at your utility submitted a piece that focuses on how great your solar energy program is, the media outlet’s editors aren’t likely to be interested.

But if you wrote about how important solar energy is to the future of electric utilities, there likely would be interest. And you could illustrate your points with occasional, brief references to things your utility is doing.

Remember that a general-interest newspaper will be interested in consumer-related subjects or topics of current importance, such as security, green energy and pricing.

Trade publications obviously would be interested in topics that are more “inside baseball” since the audience is going to have a wider breadth of industry knowledge.

Assuming the editor you’re speaking with is interested in your intended topic, the most important thing to do is write simply. Newspapers are supposedly written at a level understandable by middle school students, so keep that in mind. Don’t use specialized utility jargon or complicated terms if at all possible. If you must, explain those things carefully and clearly.

In other words, assume your audience has no idea what you’re talking about.

That said, write with confidence. As the expert on the topic at hand, you know what you’re talking about, so impart that expertise without talking down to you audience or talking up your utility unreasonably.

Writing always is helped when you can illustrate your points with real-life examples, especially when you can make a topic relatable to John Q. Public.

When it comes to numbers, use them for effect. You don’t want to include dozens of numbers because they can be hard to track. But throw in an occasional dollar figure or another similarly impressive total, and you can make an impact.

When you’re making your points, it’s a good idea to include both sides of the argument. Highlight what supports your argument, while taking time to dismantle the line of thinking against it. Remember to retain a tone of cordiality; unless the opposing arguments are truly ridiculous, treat them with respect.

Discuss only a few main points. If you touch upon too many things, you’ll dilute your main argument. Stick to the 1,000-foot view and avoid extraneous bits of information.

You may have been taught to write long sentences and paragraphs to add gravitas to your writing.

Wrong! (See what I did there?)

A paragraph can be as short as a sentence or two; if you’re writing on a standard Word document, you can easily fit 10 paragraphs. There should only be one main point in each paragraph.

Vary the length of your sentences, but keep them on the shorter side as well. That improves reading comprehension.

Use the active voice as often as possible.

Your op-ed should end with a couple of paragraphs of a conclusion and a call to action, if warranted.

At the bottom, add a line or two of biographical information about the author.

As for a word count, publications will have different requirements, but 800 words is typically an ideal amount of space for making a basic argument and backing it up.

Along with the op-ed, feel free to submit a head shot of yourself, along with a graphic element such as an illustration or photograph that supports your argument. It might not be used, but providing too much information is better than not enough.

After you submit the op-ed, be prepared for the publication to edit it or ask you to make changes. It’s a collaborative process, so hopefully you’ll reach an agreement on a final product.

As always, upon publication, post it (or link to it) on your website and social media. Get as many eyes on it as possible.

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 29, 2022

Great advice, thanks Andy!

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