Thought leadership and the art of op-ed articles

When Elon Musk tweets, the share price of Tesla often does a little jig – up, down or sideways, depending on what the outspoken CEO has posted to his army of followers. It’s no great surprise because, according to recent research, the reputation of a CEO and their brands are closely related.

The correlation was observed by Brand Finance, the brand valuation consultancy, which surveyed 1000 analysts and journalists and then cross referenced their assessments of top CEOs with its Global Brand Equity Monitor, an annual research programme tracking over 4,000 brands.

At Tesla, for example, between 2021 and 2022 Musk’s reputation among consumers rose from 7.6 to 8 out of ten while that of Tesla grew from 7.2 to 8.6. The conclusion? Top executives, according to Annie Brown, Brand Finance’s general manager,  are “one of the most underrated marketing tools” available to brands and their marketing departments.

In addition to using social media, at Paragon we believe a great way to boost a brand’s reputation is by working with CEOs and top executives to create thought provoking op-ed columns that can be placed strategically into the right media outlets. It is a chance to put forward ideas and boost authority while using a tone of voice that sums up the brand.

News & views

The best op-ed pieces are not a rehash of well-known arguments. Simply having an opinion is not enough. Ideally they should bring something new – and preferably surprising – to the public debate. This in turn proves you have a good understanding of the area and a viewpoint based on in-depth experience. As a company, don’t forget, you will have plenty of information – specialist or otherwise – that may be of interest to the public and potential clients.

The reader

What the reader wants will obviously depend on the media outlet. But, in general, when it comes to presenting serious (which can also be humorous) and perhaps complex information, what the Washington Post asks for is an excellent summary. It wants op-eds that:

  • Help people more deeply understand a topic in the news.
  • Equip them with arguments they can employ when talking about the subject.
  • Elevate ideas that help them think about the world differently.
  • Expose them to topics they might not have heard about.
  • Help them better articulate their own perspective.
  • Help them understand perspectives different from their own.

Teamwork works

Writing a topical and engaging op-ed piece demands teamwork – a combination of the knowledge and skills of the CEO/exec and journalist. It starts with a conversation and the objective of deciding what to write about – the news angle, which makes it relevant now (anniversaries, for example, or new reports), and the follow-up argument – the content the brand would like you to know about. It is also vital to talk about the right tone of voice. The more we work with a particular CEO/brand, the easier this process becomes.

An opinion based on facts…

Op-eds are the intellectual heart of a paper. Less is definitely more here and it’s your job to whittle it down to a clean, clear argument. Three strong arguments supporting your point and an unequivocal rebuttal of the strongest counter argument is all you need. Relevant stats and a clear interpretation help. And a modest tone often comes across better. Running through the whole piece should be a guiding thread  that  makes for an easy read and gives the piece greater impact.

Size matters

Time is precious and readers have more options than ever before about where to get their information. Some publishers even add the estimated time it takes to read a piece beside the headline. Too short and you won’t cover the argument; too long and you lose the reader. Just right tends to be 800 to 1,000 words – about five minutes max to read. Having said that, short and to the point can work well.

Style matters

A newspaper like The New York Times has readers that range from school kids to Nobel prize-winners so the objective is to write clear copy so cut the jargon and shortcuts. The context of your story will matter too. Don’t assume readers will know the details of your world. So explain context without jargon. Use shorter sentences to get across more complex ideas. Even in specialist magazines it’s best to use plain language rather than industry or sector buzzwords. The result is that the piece will also sound fresh.

End on a high note

The last sentence of your column/article is called the kicker and it should leave readers satisfied that they have understood the piece and that it was definitely worth reading. Circling back to the beginning can do the trick – especially if you started with a punchy and colourful anecdote that immediately grabbed the reader’s attention… a vision of Elon Musk perhaps.

If you are looking to boost the voice of your CEO or top executives by creating a new op-ed strategy, then we’d love to hear from you.

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