Why is writing a letter to the editor a public relations strategy? Because it gets you and your ideas in front of thousands of readers in some of the most respected real estate in any newspaper – the editorial section. Following are two mini case studies – letters to the editor I read today in two different newspapers.
- The president of an animal rescue organization writes a letter expressing her anger over a police raid where seventeen underfed, physically-abused dogs lived nose-to-nose in a small backyard. “It took too long for neighbors – who had to have known that something was amiss – to cry foul,” she wrote, “This is taking the right to privacy too far,” she said. How did this letter to the editor produce effective (and free) PR? Easy. For one thing, the writer mentioned the address of the nonprofit organization’s website where citizens can report animal abuse. She also stressed that she and other animal rights activists could do much more for vulnerable animals if more citizens would volunteer. Then . . . her letter was over. Short and sweet. Wonder how many hits her organization’s website will get over the next week or two?
- The owner of a small local insurance company writes a letter to the editor about the bleak future many families face because their homes were destroyed in a recent flood. Most of the families affected are not poor, the letter writer says. They live in $250,000-plus homes, but even so, without flood insurance many are assured of financial devastation. “Why do these homeowners take such foolish risks when flood insurance costs only $300 or $400 a year?” the writer asks. “They have families and jobs and futures to protect. They have hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk and probably more,” the letter writer goes on to say. Questions to ask yourself about this case: Is this good advice for readers? Yes. A heartfelt emotional plea? Yes. PR for the insurance man’s business? Oh, yes.
In each of the above examples, the writers took a story reported in the newspaper and made it work for them personally — and sincerely. Following are some tried-and-true tips for writing a letter to the editor:
- Make clear reference to the newspaper article that inspired you to sit down to write the letter.
- Mention the specific headline, the date the article was published and the name of the reporter.
- Never forget, your letter to the editor is just that: a letter. Hone in on one message and resist the temptation to write an article of your own. You may feel better (or vindicated, somehow) after you write a three-page letter, but no one will read it because no editor will publish it.
- Briefly reference your credentials without fawning. Without credentials, you are just one more reader writing in to express an opinion; there should be substance to back up your opinions.
Judy Minchew, who supervises the letters-to-the-editor column at the Houston Chronicle, has three words of advice for would-be letter writers: Keep it short! Most letters are rejected, she says, because they are too long. “Short and to the point, written succinctly on one topic is what we look for.
Letters to the editor can be your key to getting good PR. The only cost is the time it takes to sit down and write the letter.