THE LETTERS PAGE can be one of the most-read parts of a publication. That’s because readers see it as their page – one where they get to express their opinions. It is, therefore, a valuable property for public relations consultants.
The problem for PR people is that letters editors of newspapers prefer letters from normal readers, and most of the letters sent by PR flacks are worthless. But there are still plenty of letters published in the press from companies and charities, and if you can avoid sending a letter that sounds like a press release, you have a good chance of getting published.
For a letter to be printed, the writer needs to get into the spirit of a letters page. It needs to be written as you would speak, not how a committee of jargon-lovers would write it. A letter saying that the government’s criteria for approving drugs on the NHS is harming drug companies’ profits is a selfinterested letter. Letters editors are going to wonder how much the readers will care.
The letter would be much more appealing if it said that “your readers who are concerned about getting the best treatment” should be worried that increased government rationing is going to stop them getting the latest drugs.
This is basically the same point, but from a more reader-friendly direction.
Infuriatingly, many letters sent by bad PR companies seem to be no more than an attempt to tick boxes on their to-do lists, rather than a genuine attempt to get a letter printed. They read like recycled press releases – and probably are.
So it is vital to write the letter with the aim of informing readers, rather than as an attempt to get free publicity. Writing the letter simply to get the chief executive’s name in print is a bad motivation, because you will most likely write a bad letter. However, genuinely trying to help out the readers will lead to good publicity.
The lack of naked self-interest is why charities do very well at getting their letters printed, whereas companies are often less successful, unless they are responding to a City story referencing them.
This post is based on an extract from The PR Masterclass (out now from Wiley)