PR Tactic: Letters to the Editor

Media coverage of your public library can come in all shapes and forms: from simple listings of the latest summer movie night to the vote on your latest budget to a profile of your new library director.

A key thing to remember about working with the media: news stories about your library must be factual. Journalists, on principle, will aim to tell a fair and balanced story. Theyll seek interviews with both supporters and detractors and report in a point/counterpoint fashion.

Aside from direct quotes, you wont have much opportunity to inject opinions. Even if the reporter liked your quote, theres no guarantee that it will make the cut. The editor may decide it doesnt add anything to the story, or might cut it for space or time reasons.

Fortunately, the media does offer an outlet for common citizens to advocate their positions. Often, thats the Op-Ed page. Indeed, a well-written, relevant Letter to the Editor can be an excellent vehicle for letting you have your say. (Another option is the contributed article, but Ill discuss that in another post.)

Letters to the Editor should be used judiciously because newspapers cant print all that they receive. For that reason, theyre unlikely to print every letter you send. Use this PR tactic wisely and save it for the issues that are at the top of your agenda.

Letters are best suited for commenting on an issue that will have significant impact on your library. Close to budget season, it can be worthwhile for you to write the local paper and reiterate the many reasons why the community should continue to financially support the library.

Budget season, in fact, is a great time to engage your library advocates. Ask a few to send a letter to the editor, with their signatures, that describes all the benefits the library offers the community. This could result in having not one, but two, letters printed that articulate your point of view.

Beyond advocacy, letters to the editor can be used as a way of reinforcing good relationships with community organizations. If youve partnered with a business or organization in town on a program, write a letter to the editor thanking the volunteers for their help.

Letters can also be used to comment on news events that are related to public libraries generally. For example, Pews latest research on e-book lending can provide excellent fodder for a letter to the editor. Your letter can compare the national data to local and provide the opportunity for you to promote your own e-book collection.


About Tiffany McClary

Tiffany McClary is the Director of Communications, Marketing & Outreach for the New Jersey State Library. She coordinates marketing and public relations initiatives in order to enhance the reputation of the State Library, and promote the value of NJ libraries and the services and programs that they provide to residents.