Opinion Pieces: Take a Stand to Stand Out

Dec 4, 2019

In public relations, we work with most of our clients on thought leadership bylined articles. These articles frequently include the client’s opinions, most often about how healthcare provider organizations or payers can improve productivity, efficiency, patient care and other aspects of running their businesses.

In healthcare business-to-business PR, however, we rarely get the opportunity to work with clients who truly want to take a critical stand on an issue, not necessarily political, but one that some readers may interpret as (gasp!) controversial. This is understandable considering businesses often do not want to alienate any potential clients based on their position.

At the same time, it’s a shame because writing opinion pieces generates credibility when the article is carefully researched, speaks from a place of knowledge and experience and is well-written. Opinion pieces also elicit a stronger emotional response in readers and are more likely to be shared online. One study by a marketing research company analyzed the 10,000 most shared articles across the web and categorized them by feelings, finding that “awe” was the most common emotion among the highly shared articles. “Laughter” and “Amusement” were the other top emotions, but that’s not typically our goal with opinion pieces.

The firm’s analysis echoes an earlier study conducted by The New York Times several years ago which asked readers why they shared a story they found online. Among the top reasons was to “bring valuable and entertaining content to one another” and “get the word out about causes they care about.” A good opinion article accomplishes both those goals and can inspire awe or at least a strong sense of admiration in the reader who may share the piece with key decision makers in the healthcare organization. When writing opinion articles, keep in mind the following:

Think of the reader

Certainly, the CEO or other thought leaders at your company may have an opinion about a healthcare industry problem or regulation, but is it what the reader also cares about? If not, the lack of relevance will make for a forgettable article. Instead, determine one of the most common pain points among your customers (and one that your solution may address) and focus on the opinion piece on that issue.

Do your research

Eliciting emotion is crucial for opinion pieces, but the piece will fall flat without the facts to back them up. Opinion articles, like any sort of persuasive writing, need ample statistics from credible sources to support this position. Don’t go overboard, though. Too many numbers may get confusing or cumbersome and may overshadow the story you’re telling and the personality of the writer, both of which must come through.

Establish credibility

The Duke University Communications Office offers a great, quick content and style guide for writing opinion articles. In their tips, they recommend that the writer “play up your personal connection to the readers” to increase relevance and build credibility. For their guide, Duke is referring to local consumer newspapers and publications. For trade and national business media, it’s helpful if the writer demonstrates their deep healthcare knowledge by sharing a bit about their background in the industry, if they have some.

Readers tend to trust people more who have been in their shoes, so showing you’ve felt their pain firsthand can elicit a stronger sense of admiration and drive action. If the writer lacks personal experience in healthcare, describing an anecdote about a client or several clients can be just as effective.

Ruffle some feathers, respectfully

With facts and credibility established, the writer needs to take an unequivocal position on an issue, even if some or many readers will not agree, or even object to it. Taking a bold stance on an issue that is relevant to readers demonstrates confidence, strength and leadership, all qualities that healthcare leaders are looking for in partners. At the same time, demonstrating humility by explaining why you can understand the other side of the issue or the limitations of your position, is also  important to show that this is a well-considered position.

Offer solutions

If an opinion article just criticizes and offers no solutions then it is no help to anybody, including your company. Describe at a high level how this issue could be solved focusing on all aspects. It may be tempting to reference your company’s solution at this point, but refrain from self-promotion as much as possible. Nothing weakens the integrity of an opinion article like an obvious sales pitch. Ideally, the content will drive readers to explore your company and download a deeper dive into your solution through a white paper or eBook. The article is meant to highlight the knowledge, expertise and vision of the people behind the solution, which is just as important as the tech.

Use sparingly

Opinion articles may seem risky to some, but with so much thought leadership content available online, it can be difficult to stand out. A strongly held opinion articulated and argued effectively using credible evidence can differentiate the writer above other thought leaders in B2B healthcare, but also help readers see those leaders as people” – and maybe even inspire “awe.”

Morgan Lewis

Morgan Lewis is an award-winning business and healthcare writer that brings 20 years of journalism and PR writing experience, focused almost exclusively on business and healthcare. Most recently, Lewis was a writer at MERGE Atlanta (formerly Dodge Communications), where he wrote thought leadership articles, white papers, case studies, blog posts, website copy and other pieces of PR and marketing content for dozens of healthcare and healthcare IT clients over four years. Prior to that, he was an independent writer and editor focused on healthcare and health IT, creating content for clients that appear in national publications and websites. Lewis started his writing career at a daily newspaper and then business publications in the Greater Cleveland, Ohio area, where he won eight feature writing awards from Cleveland regional and state journalism organizations. Lewis then joined Medical Economics magazine, the leading business resource for primary care physicians, where he won three writing awards from the American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (ASHPE), including two Gold Awards. He earned a bachelor's degree in English-Journalism from Miami University of Ohio.