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To the Editor: The Public Library Has an Opinion

fountain-pen-447576_640Getting the media to cover your public library initiatives can be challenging in today’s noisy world, and the effort is worth it if your library is featured in a big article. But it’s not the only way to use media relations to tell your story or to influence public opinion.

One of the most overlooked public relations tactics is the letter to the editor. This method is useful for helping your community understand your position, especially around controversial or highly debated topics.

There are several advantages. First, letters are usually minimally edited by the publication, which allows the writer to provide an unfiltered opinion or point of view. A letter is also a much easier tactic to execute. Since it’s short – typically 1-3 paragraphs – the writing requirement isn’t onerous. And since it can be sent by email, it’s very easy to submit.

Letters don’t always need to be written in response to an article, either. They can be used to create awareness of issues not currently covered by the publication. Or, they can be used to thank volunteers and sponsors after a particularly successful public library event or fundraiser.

The modern or digital version of the letter to the editor is a contribution to a discussion thread. Most publications allow readers to comment on articles, and some may even reprint these in their print editions.

Used properly, letters and comments can greatly enhance your communication strategy. You’ll find them useful for:

  • Creating support for fundraisers
  • Building community awareness about issues
  • Thanking supporters
  • Clarifying information
  • Correcting misconceptions
  • Getting your message out

If you choose to write a letter or comment on a discussion, be sure to follow these guidelines.

  • Be brief. Letters to the editor may be cut for space in print, so make your point quickly in just two or three paragraphs.
  • Add value. Don’t add a comment simply for the publicity. Your letter or comment should clarify or add new information to the discussion.
  • Know when to step back. As in all discourse, your opinion is likely to meet with some dissent. In print, this conversation will be limited because the editor will print just one letter from each writer. But discussion threads can continue indefinitely, and they can sometimes turn nasty. It may be tempting to respond to each comment, but it may not always be valuable to do so. When in doubt, refer to the S. Air Force’s blog assessment decision tree.

The one caveat with a letter-writing tactic is that it can be overdone. Use it judiciously. Editors may balk if you submit letters too frequently, even if they each cover different topics.

However, being a regular commenter in a forum or discussion board can be very beneficial. It can establish you as an expert and drive additional traffic to your website.

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