We Helped Amend A Constitution With…Op-Eds

We Helped Amend A Constitution With...Op-Eds

This is the first in a series of posts reflecting on Clermont Eliot’s experience with Amendment B, which in 2020 delivered the most substantial fiscal reform to the Colorado Constitution in more than a generation. To be very clear, Clermont Eliot was one part of a fantastic campaign team co-managed by EIS Solutions and Onsight Public Affairs (both of whom we greatly admire).

Op-Eds are both underused and misused. For those who may be tacitly familiar with these medium-form means of exploring an issue, op-eds appear in a news outlet’s Opinion section. Unlike Editorials, which are opinion-based narratives written by the publication’s staff, Op-Eds are authored by members of the community, or prominent figures outside the community. The term “op-ed” itself is a physical reference to the delineation: op-eds appeared opposite the editorial page.

One of Clermont Eliot’s responsibilities as part of the Yes on Amendment B campaign was drafting and placing op-eds in newspapers throughout Colorado. Local weeklies with five-digit circulations, statewide dailies, online, in-print…the more placements the better. This meant generating drafts upon drafts for signers including former US senators, county commissioners, mayors, school board directors, and state legislators. The context of a ballot issue provides a fantastic synthesis of what makes for a successful op-ed placement.

Strong op-eds feature a credible author making a fact-based argument about an issue that impacts the community. Let’s unpack that a little further, starting with who is a credible author. A credible author can provide perspective based on direct experience with a topic or issue. A landscape architect could provide a credible perspective on how common yard and garden designs impact water supplies. A school administrator can assess the impact of state education funding constraints on local schools. 

Let’s also clarify that ideally “author” is singular. This is an issue we’ve encountered on several op-ed projects: first no one wants their name on it, then everyone does. Most publications will not accept op-eds with more than two co-authors. Why? Because those submissions usually turn into news releases. And that ties into the next point about making a fact-based argument. That an organization is doing important work on a certain issue is not an argument as much as a marketing statement. It should be done tactfully and artfully, but a good op-ed advocates that Thing A is better than Thing B.

That’s not to say op-eds should be devoid of an organization’s core messages. On the contrary, it’s a fantastic venue to deliver those narratively and firsthand. The key is to support those messages and viewpoints with well-constructed research (that can be easily verified by the publication) and acknowledge broader support from like-minded stakeholders. Those could be academic studies, public opinion research, a position paper from a third-party, or a seemingly unlikely endorser. The more an organization can convey its messages while also suggesting, “and it’s not just us saying this,” the better.

As opposed to traditional media relations (pitching stories and sending out news releases), the op-ed provides coveted end-to-end control as an earned media placement. While a well-crafted op-ed will assuredly prompt disagreement, it also provides a means to make a complete case in positioning an organization’s (and key individual’s) expertise. Those opportunities are precious fuel in a comprehensive communications effort, and why op-eds are worth exploring.