The editorial pages typically are among the most widely read sections of a paper. While letters to the editor can be effective, guest columns are even better. They are longer, usually include a photo and are more prominently displayed on the page.
One of the most effective opinion pieces I’ve ever seen ran March 28 in The Tennessean. The author, Carol Swain, is a law and political science professor at Vanderbilt University. In a polite and respectful manner, she took on the dean of law at her own university, who published an opinion piece several days prior that was critical of a proposed state constitutional amendment on abortion.
“The dean is mistaken on some of his points,” she wrote, proceeding to provide corrective facts about the proposed legislation and explained what she termed as valid reasons for some of the amendment’s provisions, noting “Negative side effects often follow abortions.”
Having one expert correct another is a powerful refutation. But then she hit the ball out of the park by personalizing the abortion experience: “I speak as one of the millions of women who exercised a choice they now regret. In my early 20s, as a married woman, I aborted my unborn child out of convenience. In my naivete, I reasoned that if abortion was legal, then it must be OK. Everything that is legal is not OK. The state has a moral obligation to protect the health and welfare of its citizens….”
Regardless of which side you are on when it comes to abortion rights, having a legal expert defend a particular side and explain the legal issues provides much more credibility than an average person who supports the amendment. Add to that a personal testimonial as to the emotional consequences of abortion, and you’ve got something that’s very effective.
Ad agencies representing clients involved in controversial situations or issues would do well to remember the benefits of having third-party experts speak out publicly on their clients’ behalf. For local matters, the daily paper is one of the best ways get the word out.
Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.