Strategy of the Week


The week's strategy: Use op-eds and letters to the editor to get positive media attention for tough subjects. Op-eds are also budget-friendly and position your executives as authorities on the matter at hand for future media coverage. Isobelle Surface, director of communications for Odyssey House, a New York City substance abuse and mental health agency, deals with issues like homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness on a daily basis. But she finds the media prefers not to tackle those topics unless "there's bad news like a crack-addicted or mentally ill person commiting a crime," she says. "It's not always that kind of news." Surface has found that op-eds and letters to the editor are a way to address the issue with the press outside of those negative connotations. But op-eds are by no means an easy score: "The subject has to be in the news in some way to begin with, and you have to write them quickly. They're based on speculation - there's no guarantee that they will be published." Nonetheless, when Surface sees an opportunity - like an article published in The New York Times "exposing" some of the poorly run treatment programs in the city - she is quick to grab the opportunity for exposure with a letter responding to the story, or an op-ed piece with Peter Provet, president of Odyssey House. By sticking to the issues, like the effects of drug abuse and mental illness on families, the need for more funding to reduce demand for drugs (vs. more funding for interdiction and law enforcement) and "geriatric junkies," Surface and Provet have landed many op-eds in the Daily News and trade publications, while letters to the editor run frequently in The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine. And it doesn't stop with the editorial pages. Once Provet's pieces turn up in the editorial page, "we get reporters calling," Surface says. "I've had nice feature stories where reporters have called saying, 'I'd like to hear more about what you're saying about crack-addicted seniors,' for example." Provet has also become a frequent presenter at a variety of conferences, and the articles have even helped boost fundraising and recruiting. "It's a way for a nonprofit to stay in the broad public eye with government funders, legislators, philanthropic organizations, [potential employees]. We've found it very effective." To peruse Surface's op-eds, check out http://www.odysseyhouseinc.org/news. (Surface, isurface@odysseyhouseinc.org)

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