PR pros seeking an alternative to the press release may wish to consider the letter to the editor.
Letters to the editor are not just rants and complaints. A well-conceived letter appearing on a magazine or newspaper’s highly visible and often controversial opinion or editorial page can gain significant attention for nonprofits and businesses.
“When well-written and strategically crafted, they are a powerful way to thank volunteers, and make the community aware of a resource, public event or issue of concern,” says Filomena Fanelli, CEO/Founder, Impact PR & Communications, Ltd. “ They’re also a great place to weigh in on a story that has already been published and share another viewpoint, correct public record or elicit a strong call to action.”
Different from Op-eds
Letters to the editor typically run about 200 to 300 words long, compared to op-eds than may run 700 to 800 words. While outlets consider only exclusive op-ed submissions, they accept simultaneous submissions of letters to the editor.
Op-eds, short for opposite editorial, traditionally offer views differing from the newspaper’s viewpoint. While letters to the editor traditionally responded to a previously published letter or article, PR pros can now consider many ideas for letter to the editor topics.
Because those letters to the editor with timely content are more likely to be published, the best letters connect to current news or events, advises Madeira Public Relations. To find topics you can:
- Localize a national story,
- Comment on new or pending laws,
- Correct false information,
- Dissect trends or new research data,
- Link your information to a holiday or season.
Recommendations for Letters to the Editor
PR veterans offer additional tips for composing and placing letters to the editor.
Play by the rules. Understand each media outlet’s submission rules. You can usually find guidelines on their websites. Understanding media outlets’ lead times for publication is critical.
Reuse them. Businesses and non-profits can share published letters in their owned media channels, social media accounts and internal publications. It’s best not to republish the full content of the letter in these channels, but to comment on the publication of the letter, possibly expand the content, and link to the letter in the news source.
Carefully consider the timing and topic. “Remember that an organization is likely to have a letter placed only once or twice a year,” Mila Rosenthal, executive director of HealthRight International and letter-to-the-editor expert. Make the best use of those limited opportunities.
Consider the writer. A letter can gain greater credibility if signed by the CEO. However, in some cases, it gains more respect if signed by a subject matter expert or local volunteer. Assisting outsiders in writing letters to the editor about your organization or issue can also produce effective PR results.
Be clear. Letters with a crystal clear core message have the most impact. A clear thesis statement in the first paragraph sets the foundation for supporting arguments. When responding to a previous letter or article, cite it in the first sentence, including both the publication date and title.
Monitor outlets. Media outlets probably won’t tell you if they publish your letter. A media monitoring service is critical for learning when outlets run your submissions. Media monitoring services also alert you about articles that call for a response or correction.
Bottom Line: Letters to the editor offer more than just a gripe forum. They offer an effective public relations tool, especially for creative PR pros who can link their organization to current events. Few PR tactics pack such punch with such a minimal investment of time and effort.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.