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Public Relations Writing: What is a Letter to the Editor?

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Writing is a large part of the public relations professional's job. (OK, almost all of the PR pro's job involves writing.) That means that you must be an exceptional writer, proofreader, and conveyor of information. Though a lot of what is said about you online and offline depends on what you write, customers and readers of publications will ultimately read the work of another individual, such as a journalist, reporter, or blogger. With that, your responsibilities as the PR person expand to include the monitoring of that information. Being aware of what is being said about you gives you an advantage over the companies who see little importance in doing so.

Some benefits of monitoring your company's buzz or WOM (word-of-mouth):

  1. The ability to respond when something said about you is inaccurate or improperly portrayed.
  2. The ability to compliment, share, or congratulate when you enjoy an article written about you or your client.
  3. The ability to react to complaints from customers or clients.
  4. Overall, the ability to curb or avoid a crisis.
One way you can do #1 and #2 is to write a Letter to the Editor. These are used primarily for #1 to help correct mistakes (which can poorly affect your company), but using it for #2 is also a great way to perpetuate and promote good WOM and can help to encourage a positive rapport with the media who covered your company.

From the Public Relations Writer's Handbook by Merry Aronson, Don Spetner, and Carol Ames, here are some great rules of thumb when considering writing a letter to the editor:

When writing a letter to the editor to correct a mistake, be sure to include the following:

  • The date and location of the incorrect article
  • The information that was incorrectly printed
  • The correct information that should have been printed instead
  • The name and title of the writer of the letter
Additionally, when writing to criticize the conclusion a reporter may have come to (inaccurately portraying the company or client) stick to the following recommendations:

  • Avoid being emotional in your response
  • Support your statements with facts
  • Keep the letter brief
  • Avoid threatening litigation
  • Make yourself and your opinion clear and succinct so that it is easily understood
  • State your case in a professional and tactful manner
  • Maintain a good rapport and relation with the media
(Public Relations Writer's Handbook, pgs. 260-261.)

Keep in mind that a critical letter to the editor is to be used with caution; the last point above, "maintain a good rapport and relation with the media" is key to your PR success. If you do send a critical letter, try not to alienate them with abusive, emotional, and overly critical comments. Moreover, if a story or article features a critical aspect of your company that was true, do not write a letter to the editor about it; this may perpetuate things and draw more attention to the story.

Letters to the editor can be great tools, however; it can show the media that you are in tune with what they (and other media outlets) are writing about you. It can also improve your media relations when you send a complimentary letter to thank the author for writing the story. Lastly, they can be used as a publicity tool to "present a positive positioning statement about the company's strengths versus its competitors. Letters to the editor often present excellent opportunities for positive publicity, whatever the initiating context or pretext." (pg. 246)

Have you experienced some benefits from writing a letter to an editor?

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