Op-Ed Features

Writing Letters to the Editor

What if there was a PR tool that costs nothing and could establish your reputation as an expert with just a few minutes work? That's exactly what a well-placed letter to the editor can do. Here's how to make it happen . . .

Since the eighteenth century, letters to the editor have been a fixture of American media.

Writing Letters to the Editor

Most people associate letters to the editor with angry diatribes from disgruntled readers or borderline lunatics. However, a letter to the editor can also have an important PR application for businesses.

Letters to the editor are a form of correspondence between a reader and a publication. Unlike personal correspondences, letters to the editor are usually sent with the idea that they will be published. The subjects of letter to the editor can be far ranging, but most commonly include issues related to editorial positions or regional current events.

As a business leader, one of the convenient characteristics of a letter to the editor is that it gives you the ability to exploit someone else's article or expertise for your own advantage. If you can't convince journalists to cover your story idea with a pitch, you can use a letter to the editor to establish your authority by commenting on other published articles.

How? There at least four ways you can convert a letter to the editor into a PR tool for your business:

  • Thank the Paper. Most letters to the editor put editorial staff in the crosshairs. So when something comes along that thanks the paper for the courage and conviction, it almost always get published. Don't go overboard, but reference the article, briefly describe your credentials, and lavish appreciation on the paper's staff.
  • Agree with the Article. Sometimes all it takes to get a letter to the editor published is to agree and briefly expand on another article. Keep it short and describe why you agree with the main points of the article, briefly mentioning the credentials that make you qualified to know a good article when you see it.
  • Disagree with the Article. A more common technique is to take a contrarian position with a recently published article. Don't be argumentative, but quickly and clearly illustrate where the article went wrong. This can be an especially satisfying exercise when you want to counter the effectiveness of an article that was published by a competitor.
  • Introduce a New Angle. Yet another strategy for utilizing a letter to the editor as a PR tool is to take the article in a different direction. For example, "I agree with John Doe's article on crowd control, but have we considered the implications of exposing large groups of people to noxious chemicals?" could form the basis for a great letter to the editor. Under the right circumstances, it might even lead to its own feature story.

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