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Letters to the Editor -- Speak Directly to Your Audience

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

The letter to the editor section of a publication is one of the most interesting news opportunities for a company that is often overlooked by organizations and individuals.

Letters to the editor can be a key means of getting your message(s) widely read and reinforce your firm's and products/services position. Many people don't realize that this section is among the most widely read in any publication.

While the letters to the editor section is usually brief, there are several benefits of getting a letter published. For example, letters to the editor can often provide editorial opportunities that are unavailable in other sections of the publication.

With more than 2,000 daily newspapers and more than 1,000 horizontal and vertical business and market publications there are a tremendous number of opportunities for a positive story.

Letters to the editor often react to negative editorials, unbalanced stories or unfavorable letters. Increasingly publications are running letters when management has positive news or a unique perspective to share. In addition, publications also print letters that complement certain stories or opinion pieces giving you an opportunity to reinforce a point made regarding your company and/or your products.

Another benefit of a letter to the editor is that it can be used to communicate a small, yet significant point about company or product news that would not otherwise warrant coverage by the publication. Letters to the editor rapidly become dated so they are usually published soon after they are received -- in the next issue or two. The amount of time required to draft a good letter to the editor makes it an inexpensive communications tactic.

Letters to the editor are written to a publication's editor about a pertinent subject. Open to anyone, this line of communication provides executives with an opportunity to directly communicate with both the publication's editorial staff and its readers. Publications value these letters because they provide valuable, direct and immediate feedback from readers. They are also valued because they often stimulate further reader involvement.

While letters to the editor are straightforward, maximize their impact and increase the chances of being published by following certain guidelines:
  • Keep the letter brief. Write two to four short paragraphs in standard business format and style.
  • Follow a basic format. The opening paragraph should identify the subject of the letter. The second should agree, disagree and/or add additional information relative to the subject. The third paragraph can include a company and/or product positioning point as long as it is in context of the subject matter and not simply a self-serving sales pitch.
  • Don't over react. If you are reacting to a story in the publication read the item several times. Highlight the objectionable areas or areas where you feel reinforcement/clarification should be added. This helps you focus on specific issues and respond with relevance.
  • Assemble your key points before you write. Develop a strategy and position for the letter and then provide facts that support each position. Make certain the facts are succinct and easily understood.
  • Keep the tone of your letter professional. Remember you're not just writing to the editor but to the larger audience of the publication.
  • Keep the writing clear and concise. Keep your sentences short and state your main points in a minimum number of paragraphs.
  • Summarize your key messages at the end of the letter and provide a "pointer." The point is the lasting impression you want the reader to have from your letter to the editor.
  • Don't be too overly indignant or overly passionate. Whether you're using s-mail or e-mail read and reread your letter a few times before sending it. In some instances the letter to the editor is written in the heat of the moment or in righteous indignation. Getting something "off your chest" may make you feel better but also how will it make your company and you look when it ultimately appears in print. Sometimes it's best to write your first letter to get rid of all of your "garbage," throw (or delete) the letter and start with a clear, concise perspective of what you want to accomplish.

Finally make certain you sign the letter including your title and company name.

Letters to the can reach a very large audience. They cost very little to implement, are easy to use and much more effective than a brief mention regarding the company and/or your products. Tactically, and strategically, letters to the editor can be a successful part of your firm's communications campaign to raise the level of consciousness level of your company, your products, your services and your position in the business and local community.

© Copyright 1999, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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