The opinion and editorial sections of newspapers, better known as the op-ed pages, remain one of print medium’s most unique and well-read features. The points of view expressed by guest columnists and letters to the editor can grab the attention of readers and spread influence in the community.
You can establish yourself as an expert in your field as well as an engaged member of your community while at the same time providing a powerful platform for promoting your business by writing a column or letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
Here’s how to write a persuasive letter or editorial:
- Choose a topic: There’s certainly no shortage of news (international, national and local) to sound off about on any given day, and that could put you front and center in the community conversation. Topics may range from large, far-reaching issues such as the current financial crisis and changing political winds (with you giving a local perspective and sharing your own unique point of view) to local events a businessperson such as yourself may be uniquely positioned to shed some light on, for example, a jump in parking meter rates, a hike in local business taxes, or a proposed noise ordinance.
- Start with a bang: State upfront what your opinion is and why you are positioned to illuminate your neighbors, colleagues, and customers/clients on the issue. It is important in a sea of information inundating the public all the time to state your case forcefully and to grab the attention of readers. If you don’t they may not bother to read on.
- Share your experience: Once you’ve expressed what the topic is, detail point-by-point, by way of your own experience, why you are uniquely qualified to take a stand. For example, if the topic is a shortage of parking spaces in your business’s neighborhood and the proposed construction of a controversial municipal parking garage, explain how the shortage has impacted your business and others as the neighborhood has grown and why the garage makes sense for the community (e.g., it will revitalize businesses in the area and generate more tax revenue).
- Take a stand, carefully: You are taking a point of view, which is the whole point of writing an opinion piece. To sound off on a proposed law that could impact your business and others and attach your name and that of your business to that opinion is one thing. But steer away from extremely polarizing issues (certain political issues, for example) as it could hurt you, your business, and your relationships in the community.
- Make it personal: Remember to stress your connection to the community even as you share your unique business perspective. If the topic involves your city’s public schools, be sure to state that you graduated from this or that high school, or that your children attend such-and-such a grammar school. Be sure to promote that you are a local business owner for X number of years, mentioning your business name. (You will also sign the letter or column with your name, title, and name of your business.)
- Forge a relationship: Once you’ve put the finishing touches on your column or letter and have a trusted second party with strong grammar skills (e.g., a colleague or spouse) read through it and give you their two cents’ worth, consult your local paper to find the editor in charge of the op-ed section. This is as easy as a phone call to the newspaper office or a look at the paper’s Web site. Editors typically are inundated with phone calls, so it’s usually best to contact them via e-mail. In that correspondence, introduce yourself, state briefly why you’re writing the letter or column, and include the submission in a Microsoft Word attachment. Be sure to include your contact information in the e-mail, as typically editors will want to confirm information.
Once your column or letter is published, you could be well on your way to establishing your voice in the community and generating valuable publicity for yourself and your business. Furthermore, as you establish yourself as an “expert” who has been quoted in the local press, you could be sought out by one of the paper’s reporters for a news story about which you could share your expertise or even be sought out by other media, including local television or radio stations.