Video op-eds may be an idea whose time has come.
Op-eds are a tried-and-true way to convey an unfiltered message in news columns. However, with shrinking editorial pages and newspaper readership, the op-ed has diminished in value. Getting an op-ed published is still valuable, but mostly as a source of solid content to share on social media.
If social media is the ultimate target for an op-ed, then social media rules should apply. The number one social media rule to obey is video gains more eyeball contact than text.
For traditionalists, this trend may appear as an aggravation. It’s actually an opportunity.
Op-eds published in newspapers or other print outlets are one dimensional. There is a catchy headline and 500 words to make your point. In a video op-ed, there are many more flexible options.
In its simplest form, a video op-ed can consist of the op-ed writer voicing what he or she wrote. This allows a viewer to see the person speaking and observe their expressions and body language. It permits a speaker to establish a “face-to-face” rapport with an audience and inject appropriate emotion into his or her content.
A video op-ed can capture two or three people discussing a topic, offering a mix of perspectives or even contrary points of view. A carefully edited give-and-take can be very informative, quick-paced – and highly shareable.
Adding presentational elements to a video op-ed can be entertaining as well as informational. Robert Reich, the former Cabinet officer-turned political commentator, uses sharpies to make drawings that punctuate his commentaries.
Specifically designed for social media, Reich talks over sped-up imagery of him of creating his engaging illustrations. The sketches reinforce his words, making it more likely viewers will get – and retain – his point.
The Washington Post employs video op-eds in a wide range of forms to discuss topics such as “Grand Juries 101,” why gerrymandering could be okay if done better, a Thanksgiving message from Teddy Roosevelt and a remembrance of columnist Charles Krauthammer. The WaPo op-eds take advantage of film clips, illustrations, charts and anything visual to grab eyeballs and stimulate thought. The video op-eds live on the publication’s online newsroom, providing evergreen content that can continuously draw clicks.
The New York Times has created an online channel for wide-ranging video op-ed contributions. Samples include Robert Redford expressing opposition to the Keystone Pipeline, Bill Gates discussing a clean energy “moonshot” and a video essay contrasting Siri with a human assistant. The video op-eds can be as short as 90 seconds up to more than six minutes in the Gates’ contribution.
In-house video production is no longer a pipe dream. Credible high-definition video can be shot with a smartphone. Video op-eds don’t represent any greater technical challenge than explanatory or training videos.
Previous Rules of Engagement blogs have offered tips on how to conceive and execute quality video content. Like any other type of video, video op-eds require producers to zero in on the point they want to make, then think expansively about how to show it. Drop all inhibitions and let your imagination go to work. Seek professional help, if needed, to carry out your dream plan.
Public affairs can be a stodgy, change-resistant wing of public relations. If you want to reach target audiences and be relevant, contemporary tactics are essential, including video op-eds. Experiment to get your creative sea legs, but don’t hesitate to take the plunge.
Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.