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Gavin liked the news release and media kit you put together for the Commission on Public Relations Education (CPRE)*. He wants you to move on to a new deliverable for the client: writing an op-ed to be published in a major newspaper. As you recall, the news release was one tactic, or product, in CPRE’s media relations strategy. CPRE wants to gain support from industry partners and nonprofits to fund a new study on writing in the United States. Whereas the news release and media kit you produced were intended to reach the news media, this op-ed, which is another tactic in the media relations strategy, will help you reach those industry partners and nonprofits.

As promised, Gavin sends you the details.


FROM: Gavin Hanson, account executive

TO: You


Click here to open the email.

Sorry about the delays—I finally have a moment. Here’s some more info on the op-ed; I think you’ll enjoy this.

Here’s what to do:

  • choose the newspaper you want us to submit to—check out the options and review submission guidelines;
  • find a news hook for the op-ed;
  • write the op-ed to the specifications of the newspaper;
  • write a cover letter to the editor, and include your news hook—basically, figure out what will appeal to the editor the most about this topic at this time and use the letter to “pitch” the op-ed.

FYI: We’re still working out some details with CPRE, but this op-ed might be the first in a series. This would give you a golden opportunity to do some planning as well as writing—identifying submission opportunities, an angle for each submission, experts to consult, and more irresistible news hooks. We’ll know more in a week . . . I’ll ping you as soon as I hear anything.

Also note that some of our other teams are working with CPRE on this. I’ll follow up with details so that you know more about the overall strategy.

Time: 2 weeks

Get in touch if you need anything!

Gavin email signature

A Little More Context

In Project 1, you wrote the news release, backgrounder, and fact sheet to inform; this op-ed, and the accompanying cover letter (pitch letter), are great ways for you to persuade a target audience, or public. Making an argument always involves articulating a thesis and supporting it; persuasion in strategic communications also means figuring out how to reach and motivate a target public to act or to change a viewpoint. You’re not trying to sell a product or service, and you’re certainly not trying to advertise anything; you’re drawing attention to an issue in such a way as to affect perceptions and ethically influence the behavior of a specific group toward that issue. Your op-ed will accomplish this, and so will your cover letter to the editor, which will include a news hook, or a stimulating piece of information related in some way to the news of the day to maximize interest in publishing the piece. You’ll write the letter at the end of the project, once Gavin has had the ability to review your work and you’ve had the ability to revise it. Make sure to spend some time on the pitch letter; it’s as vital as the content and quality of your op-ed to getting the piece published.

Note that although you’re the author of this op-ed, the name in the byline will be a major figure from CPRE, probably one of the chairs. You’re essentially ghost-writing as CPRE, something to keep in mind as you compose the op-ed.

Just as in Project 1, Gavin will want a draft of your work at the halfway point, a week before the project is due. You’ll send him an email briefing him on your approach to the topic and why you took it. He’ll want you to hold off on writing the pitch letter until you’ve seen his comments and made any revisions to the op-ed.

Planning Your Work

You have two weeks to produce your op-ed; be sure to read through all the steps of the project first so that you can plan your time wisely. Complete the steps as follows:

  • Week 4: Steps 1–4
    • submission in Step 4
  • Week 5: Steps 5–8
    • submission in Step 7

If you have questions at any time, please visit the Ask the Professor discussion.

*Although CPRE is a real organization, this project is a fictional scenario.


Your work will be evaluated using the competencies listed below.

  • 1.1: Organize document or presentation clearly in a manner that promotes understanding and meets the requirements of the assignment.
  • 1.4: Tailor communications to the audience.
  • 2.5: Develop well-reasoned ideas, conclusions or decisions, checking them against relevant criteria and benchmarks.
  • 5.1. Conduct strategic communications in coordination with other organizational functions and stakeholders to achieve organizational goals and objectives.
  • 6.5. Develop targeted messages for diverse publics based on specific communications objectives.
  • 7.4. Manage the dissemination of communications products to maximize message impact.

Learn About Op-Eds and Persuasive Writing in Communications

folded-up newspaper

Moment Collection / Getty

In your last project with Gavin and the CPRE team, you produced several documents for the news media in order to spur interest in the state of writing in the United States. Now, you’re going to write an op-ed to persuade a wider audience, or public, that your topic has merit and that action should be taken.

Before you begin, check out the Parabolic packet on op-eds: What Is an Op-Ed?. In addition to providing guidance and a possible template to follow, the packet contains sample op-eds for you to review, including one by Washington Post columnist George Will and one by talk show host Hugh Hewitt. The op-eds take on topics as diverse as baseball, the relative newsworthiness of Beltway politics, and Halloween costumes.

Conduct a search for op-eds in your favorite newspapers—or other publications—to read examples. What do you believe makes for a high-quality op-ed? What makes you want to read an op-ed, and to keep reading? As you saw in the packet, many “big name” op-eds aren’t written by those individuals at all, but are ghost written, the same way your op-ed will be. How did the author capture the “voice” of the titled individual or organization?

Finally, it may help to review Gavin’s notes on persuasive writing in strategic communications. Whether or not you’ve engaged in persuasive writing in the past, your position at Parabolic necessitates a more strategic approach than you may have employed in other situations. In addition to making a convincing argument, you must ensure that your op-ed fits into the whole of CPRE strategy: You’re working as part of a multifunctional team, in concert with other personnel at Parabolic to persuade the industry to contribute money to support future research.

To give you a sense of perspective on your op-ed and where it fits in with the larger CPRE strategy, Gavin sends you a document.

Email Attachment: Gavin Hanson

Hey there! Here’s a little more info on the CPRE initiative. I dashed this off in a meeting, so it’s short and sweet. Enjoy!

Parabolic CPRE Strategy Overview: What We’re All Doing

You’ll want your op-ed to be aligned with the work other Parabolic departments are doing, aligned with the aims and goals of strategic communications, and aligned with ethical principles relating to persuasion in communications. Knowing the strategic communications objective is paramount. As is the case with many op-eds, your objective with the product you’re writing is an outtake objective. (You’ll learn more about objectives in Project 4.)

In the next step, you’ll decide where to submit your op-ed.

Research Your Newspaper

You’ve learned a bit about writing op-eds. Now, you’ll determine when and where to submit your op-ed.

Review the Parabolic packet on writing for the media. This will give you a sense of how to write for the news media in general, and how to target your writing and submission approach to a particular publication.

Your next task is to choose your newspaper. You may have some favorites—perhaps you spend your Sundays curled up on the couch with the New York Times, or maybe you break up your workday to browse the Washington Post. Research major publications, not just in your area, but in cities across the United States. (If you’re abroad or have a penchant for Le Monde, note that a non-US paper may have minimal interest in national writing issues.)

Data analytics tools can assist with this type of research; one excellent option is Meltwater. You’ll use Meltwater in other Parabolic projects, including Project 4, so this a good opportunity to test-drive it. Visit the discussion Meltwater: Guidance, Questions, and Discoveries to learn how to sign on and begin your search for media channels. Also access Using Meltwater to Find Influencers and Media Channels.

woman reading a newspaper

Westend61 / Getty

As you research newspapers, locate information on reader demographics. Find examples of the op-eds and see if the writing style would be a good fit for both CPRE and you as an author. Finally, access the newspapers’ guidelines for submitting op-eds. Note that you’re researching print publications only; you’ll have opportunities to write for web-based outlets and social media in other Parabolic projects.

Your goal in this research is not only to identify the publication you believe would be the best vehicle for your op-ed, but also to consider how to tailor your op-ed in terms of reaching the typical reader and adhering to the paper’s style and guidelines.

Discussion: Where Are You Submitting?

Join your fellow junior account executives in Discussions area to talk about what newspaper you chose and why. You’ll get to see the publications others are considering and what their research has revealed.

Next, you’ll ensure the interest of your editor and readers by finding a hook for your op-ed.

Identify Your News Hook

You’ve chosen your newspaper, profiled the typical reader, considered the timing of the op-ed, and read the submission guidelines, so you have a good handle on the parameters of your project. Now, you’re going to consider how to spur the keen and unflagging interest of your reader.

In identifying the news hook, consider what will draw the reader to your op-ed. You’ve got the “what”; now you need the “so what.” Is something happening in the news that you can tie in with CPRE’s concerns? Is there a cultural connection you can make? Is there a startling and counterintuitive fact you’ve found that will make the contents of your op-ed compelling? The news hook could even be an upcoming holiday or seasonal event—or a date connected with a historical figure. Remember that you’ll use the news hook not only in the article itself, but as part of your pitch letter to the editor, which you’ll write in Step 7.

bearded man enthusiastically reading something on his laptop, with pen in hand, flanked by a coffee mug

Anchiy / Getty

Conducting research as needed, identify the news hook. Next, you’ll write the op-ed.

Write Your Op-Ed (Submission)

black-and-white shot of an old-fashioned typewriter

Suteishi / Getty

You’ve researched your target publication and identified a scintillating news hook for your op-ed. Now, you’re almost ready to start drafting.

Before you write your op-ed, review the guidelines of the newspaper and your source material: the backgrounder and Cole et al. article from Project 1.

Cole, R. T., Hembroff, L. A., & Corner, A. D. (2009). National assessment of the perceived writing skills of entry-level PR practitioners. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 64(1), 10–26. doi:10.1177/107769580906400102

Draft an outline of your op-ed. Think about your news hook, what argument you will make, and how you will support your argument. Making a convincing argument is a skill you’ll need as a strategic communications specialist.

As you consider CPRE’s mission, organizational objective, and the strategic communications objective of this op-ed, also think about how to most appeal to your publics. Given the typical reader of your chosen publication, what kind of argument will gain the most attention and have the most impact? Do you want to use emotional appeals, facts, anecdotes, statistics, even humor? What writing style should you adopt? Consider word choice and tone; given that you have a finite number of words in which to get your readers to care about your issue, what is the best way to approach this?

Remember to use AP style; also, that you’re writing as one of the chairs of CPRE.

Submit your draft to Gavin. At the top of the file, include a short note about what you wrote and why. Include a link to the submission guidelines of your chosen newspaper so that Gavin can check that you followed them appropriately.

To keep yourself on track, submit your draft by the end of Week 4. Hold off on writing the pitch letter until Gavin has had a chance to review your draft and provide feedback. Continue to Step 5, however, where Gavin has another task for you.

Take Action

Submit your assignment to your instructor for review and feedback.

Follow these steps to access the assignment:

  • Click My Tools in the top navigation bar.
  • Click Assignments.
  • Select the relevant assignment.

Plan Your Op-Ed Series

You’re taking a stroll around the building on your lunch break, admiring the beautiful yellow blooms on a tree, when Gavin approaches.

“Good news!” says Gavin. “Remember how I told you we might have the opportunity to run an op-ed series as part of the CPRE strategy? Well, leadership wants us to have a proposal in place in case this first op-ed is successful. If you can tackle this, I’ll be able to have it in my back pocket for the next client meeting.”

“What I want you to do while I review your op-ed is to come up with a plan for four more op-eds. Look at a calendar and identify four additional opportunities to submit, taking into account holidays, historic events, or other dates that could serve as a news hook. Identify a thesis or topic for each op-ed. Then, come up with a news hook for each op-ed if you haven’t found one already. There’s a fair bit of juggling to do, but it’s a creative challenge.”

“Finally,” says Gavin, “I want you to identify a subject matter expert to consult with on each of the op-eds. This will necessitate some research. Think of who would lend credibility to each op-ed: Whom could you interview or consult with to give your article a voice of authenticity? Whom would your readers trust? This could be a single individual or a role.”

“I have another meeting, so I’ll leave you to circumnavigate the witch hazel adorning our exterior. I’ll get your op-ed draft back to you in a few days.”

 the red and yellow firecracker blooms of witch hazel

Westend61 / Getty

Making a mental note to tap into Gavin’s botanical expertise in the future, you head back to your cubicle to start working on your op-ed series proposal. You want to get this done in a few days, as you also have to revise your op-ed according to Gavin’s feedback and write the pitch letter to the editor, all due at the end of the week.

In a new document, create a neat and clear plan for your op-ed series. Note (1) possible dates for submission, (2) topics or theses, and (3) the news hooks you will employ. In the next step, you’ll identify experts.

Discussion: What’s Your News Hook?

The news hook is vital to all parts of this project—it’s the “sticky” element that determines the impact of each op-ed. Join your peers in the Discussions area to share one of your hooks and how you came up with it. This will give you a window into the creativity of others and to see what ideas your peers have had that you might not have considered.

Next, you’ll identify your subject matter experts (SMEs).

Identify Experts

You’ve outlined a neat and clean op-ed series proposal to present to the editor of the newspaper. Now, you’re going to add the missing piece: the SME or influencer you’d like to employ in drafting each op-ed. Note that you’re not actually writing the four op-eds or reaching out to the experts, just coming up with a plan.

Gavin sends you a link.

New Conversation: Gavin Hanson

Just dug this up from one of our many onboarding folders: Working with Influencers and Experts to Ensure Credibility. Read this before identifying your SMEs—it will give you a sense of whom to look for.

Consider the thesis of each of your proposed op-eds and reflect on who would be the best expert or influencer to quote from, consult with, or interview for the piece. You might find yourself re-focusing a few of your topics as you research.

There a lot of ways you can conduct your research; Meltwater is enormously helpful for finding specific influencers and adding them to your contacts. In addition to using analytics tools, you can always try out Google searches. Look at blogs, chat rooms, speakers’ bureaus, and so forth; use a combination of keywords and common sense.

Your SMEs can be actual people, or you can identify roles. For example, you could list “Dr. Piper McGowan of Stony Creek University” or “a US senator who sits on the Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety within the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.” For each influencer or expert, briefly describe why you think that person will lend credibility to your op-ed.

black female in her 50s with a clipboard in hand, flanked by two younger people, maybe students. One appears Asian, and the other, Hispanic.

Asiseeit / E+ Collection / Getty

Next, you’ll edit and revise your op-ed as needed, write your pitch letter for the op-ed, and take one last look at your series proposal before submitting three perfectly written and irrefutably persuasive documents.

Revise Your Op-Ed and Write Your Pitch Letter (Submission)

four newspapers stacked on top of each other

Barisonal / E+ Collection / Getty

You’ve drafted a proposal for an op-ed series for Gavin. You’ve also received his comments on your op-ed. Now, you’re going to finalize both of these documents and draft a third document: a pitch letter to the editor of the newspaper. The pitch letter is for your written op-ed only, to introduce it to the editor of your chosen publication. The op-ed series proposal is solely for Gavin’s eyes at this point; he’ll share it with the client following his own review.

Gavin calls you to coach you through writing an effective pitch letter.

Phone Call With Gavin

“Let’s talk pitch letters,” says Gavin. “To write a letter that will really reach the editor, read our Parabolic guidance: What Is a Pitch Letter? We include tips for researching and writing the letter, a few examples, and a pitch letter template. Keep your letter professional, short and sweet, and as compelling as you can make it. Basically, what would make YOU want to publish this op-ed, given the mission and readership of your paper? The editor doesn’t want a synopsis of the article, only the briefest of descriptions and a good reason to care. Remember your news hook!”

Armed with Gavin’s advice, write, polish, and perfect your three documents, incorporating Gavin’s feedback into the op-ed revision.

To keep yourself on track, be sure that you submit the three files by the end of Week 5.

You’ll receive any revision requests within a week.

Check Your Evaluation Criteria

Before you submit your assignment, review the competencies below, which your instructor will use to evaluate your work. A good practice would be to use each competency as a self-check to confirm you have incorporated all of them. To view the complete grading rubric, click My Tools, select Assignments from the drop-down menu, and then click the project title.

  • 1.1: Organize document or presentation clearly in a manner that promotes understanding and meets the requirements of the assignment.
  • 1.4: Tailor communications to the audience.
  • 2.5: Develop well-reasoned ideas, conclusions or decisions, checking them against relevant criteria and benchmarks.
  • 5.1. Conduct strategic communications in coordination with other organizational functions and stakeholders to achieve organizational goals and objectives.
  • 6.5. Develop targeted messages for diverse publics based on specific communications objectives.
  • 7.4. Manage the dissemination of communications products to maximize message impact.

Take Action

Submit your assignment to your instructor for review and feedback.

Follow these steps to access the assignment:

  • Click My Tools in the top navigation bar.
  • Click Assignments.
  • Select the relevant assignment.

Congratulations on not only writing and revising an op-ed, but planning a series of submissions.


pebble path with large stones flanked by grass and trees leading to a clearing

John S Lander / LightRocket Collection / Getty

Project 2 Reflection: Parabolic Lounge

Before you move on, take a moment to visit the Parabolic Lounge (located in the Discussions area). What did you find easy or difficult about this project? What did you enjoy more—writing to inform (Project 1) or writing to persuade (Project 2)? Which was more challenging? Did you learn anything about developing a targeted message, a news hook, or an editorial plan? Did you use Meltwater? If so, what did you appreciate or find challenging about the tool? What uses do you see for it in future communications work?

When you’re ready, enter Project 3, where you’ll write to persuade again—only this time, to convince a new potential client of the value of your field. You’re going to dive into the history and theoretical underpinnings of strategic communications and develop a multimedia presentation.

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