Letter Rip: Send that Letter to the Editor

Research, Customization will Increase Your Odds of Success

The letter to the editor, alongside its big brother, the op-ed, is a tried-and-true earned media tactic. And for good reason: letters are reader-contributed, run the gamut of topics that are news-based and “evergreen,” and are generally short, which means they get read. On top of all that, newspapers publish several every day, and as a result have a solid appetite for good ones.

Frequently appearing in hyper-local markets, letters can be a significant consumer marketing tool. They are effective for a variety of reasons:

  • Educating the public (or correcting the record) about a specific health concern, issue or controversy
  • Creating/enhancing name/brand recognition within the target area
  • Establishing the client’s reputation as an authority on the specific topic or issue
  • Reinforcing the client or organization as a caring and concerned member of its local community(s)

Establish Goals, and Don’t Self-Promote

SPRYTE has had great success with well thought-out, well-researched letter to the editor campaigns on behalf of various clients, frequently publishing the same letter in a number of newspapers across the country, under different bylines, where clients have local offices or franchises, for example.

But the letter to the editor isn’t low-hanging fruit. Success hinges on several factors, not the least of which is the skill of the writer. While the urge is to get your organization’s or client’s name out prominently and positively, editors will see right through letters that are too self-promotional. Writers need to constantly ask the question, “What will the paper’s readers get out of this?” More precisely, what public good can we provide, or what useful or compelling information can we share? What important topic or viewpoint can we open readers’ eyes to?

As with just about all earned media tactics, it’s useful to lay out your goals first, then let them inform the content of your letter. If your goal is to inform readers, make sure to include facts and/or statistics. If you want to thank or bring attention to a group, highlight the problem the group or individuals have helped to solve, and what they’ve accomplished. And if your goal is to weigh in on a subject that’s being widely covered and thus gain thought-leadership credibility, be sure to base your argument on established facts and logic.

Best Practices for Your Letter to the Editor

Here are some more tips from SPRYTE’s playbook for leveraging letter to the editor campaigns:

Avoid high-traffic times of year. Saluting mothers on Mother’s Day, or veterans on Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day will put your letter into intense competition for space. Same with the winter holidays (resist that New Year’s resolutions self-help letter). Instead, if you’d like to peg your letter to a significant or recurring event, set your sights on less prominent days, such as an obscure anniversary, a lesser-known holiday, or an organization milestone that no one else can claim. In recent years, SPRYTE has jumped on Peace Officers Memorial Day, “Juneteenth,” POW-MIA Recognition Day, and National Caregivers Day, generating dozens of published letters.

Move fast. If you want to respond to a published article, or give your take on a topic in the news, waiting even a few days can make your letter to the editor stale. Monitor media coverage that’s relevant to your organization’s expertise, and get the wheels spinning for a letter the day the story runs. Submit it the next day or within 48 hours. And don’t forget to reference the specific article in your letter.

Follow the rules. Many papers have specific guidelines for letter writers, so read them and follow them. Words might be limited to 200 or even 150, so make every word count. (In general, shorter letters or more likely to be used in any case.) Some publications require you to e-mail your letter to a specific department or editor, and others have online submission forms. Submit in the prescribed format to give your letter to the editor the best chance of being used. And some papers specifically state they don’t run general “thank you” letters, or letters that don’t respond to a specific article that was published, so make note of those restrictions too.

Customize your letter. If you’ve gone to the trouble to write a letter to the editor, take the time to adapt it for every newspaper/market you’re submitting it to. Include the local office location and healthcare professional’s name, for example, rather than the CEO of the national organization. Name the city and reference the local issue if applicable. This will greatly increase the chance of your letter getting used.

Be available. Just about every paper has a letter verification process to ensure validity, and that might include a phone call or e-mail to or from the letter writer confirming contact information, city of residence and organization. Make sure the person who signs the letter to the editor is aware they might be contacted, or might proactively have to call a number to verify.

Manage expectations. Even if you get a canned e-mail that says your letter to the editor is being considered for publication, you’re only at second base. Your letter might be pushed out due to lack of space, competing, more timely topics, or a more insightful (or entertaining) letter on the same subject. Then again, if your letter is more of an evergreen, it could run days or even weeks letter when you’re not expecting it.

Letters to the editor can be a powerful tool in the healthcare communicator’s arsenal. They can build your reputation, influence public opinion, spur changes in behavior, and, as part of a bigger campaign, possibly even influence public policy. So letter rip!

 

Podcasting: Is it a Good Fit?

Practical Considerations for Healthcare Podcasters

A few months ago, we touched on the broad topic of Podcasting for Healthcare – and why it’s one of the fastest growing sectors of marketing.

As they say, it’s not rocket science. Getting involved is relatively inexpensive (compared to TV advertising, anyway). It’s a great way to reach a targeted audience. Furthermore, your targets probably are more open to listening to the message you’re presenting. After all, they’ve taken the positive action to sign on to your podcast, and they can listen to it at their leisure. Thus you’ll have a friendly, captive audience while your podcast is running.

But is it right for you? There’s no easy answer – especially for healthcare organizations who face any number of competing challenges within their annual budget considerations.

Why Podcasting?

As part of a recent webinar offered by New England Society for Healthcare Communications (NESHCO), Hartford HealthCare social media specialist Carol Vassar noted that the audience for podcast listeners – which continues to grow by 21% to 24% per year – is probably within health marketers’ sweet spot.

Most podcast listeners are within the 18 to 54 age range (the audience leans slightly male). In addition, the typical listener is affluent, well-educated and is increasingly likely to prefer ad-free or ad-light experiences.

Setting Goals

To determine if podcasting is a god fit, as in any marketing effort, it’s essential to establish clear goals. What is it you want to accomplish by developing a podcasting initiative? In addition, you need to have a clear vision of what success will look like.

There are a number of additional questions you need to ask yourself before embarking on a podcasting adventure. How well does the idea of podcasting mesh with your overall marketing strategy? If you’re heavy into content creation and digital marketing, podcasting could be a perfect fit.

Content is Still King

As earned media specialists, we at SPRYTE are very partial to content marketing. What is the story you are trying to tell? In any kind of communication designed to persuade – whether it’s to get a sale, get a vote, earn a positive opinion – the most effective communication will be that which tells the most convincing and relatable story. If you’re already creating great content for other pieces of your marketing effort, such as for newsletters (digital or print) and social media, you’ve already got a head start in creating an effective podcasting platform.

The more clearly you can delineate who your target audiences are, the better you will be able to adapt your content to best match their needs and interests. Who is it you are trying to reach?  Young or soon-to-be-mothers? Weekend warriors? People dealing with cancer or heart disease? Individuals experiencing issues related to behavioral health?

Depending on who you are trying to reach, you will want to craft your message so that it resonates. (For example, for a hospital, your planned podcast may feature an interview with a medical specialist discussing a new treatment or service offering, or a hot healthcare news topic.) Wonderful patient success stories (made suitably anonymous) almost always fill the bill when it comes to assuring a great audience response. (A dose of media training for on-air talent is also recommended.)

The Podcast Team

No doubt you will want to include an experienced writer who can help you outline or script out what will be said during the podcast. Keep in mind that writing for the ear is different from writing for the reader. It’s shorter. And sharper.

You should also make sure to have a host who has interviewing experience and is able to get your expert to discuss important information in a listener-friendly way. (Radio experience is usually a good fit.)

It’s also important to have a good graphic designer on your team to ensure that covers and advertising are professional-looking and attractive when they are presented on iTunes, Stitcher or another potential distributor.

Finally, you’ll need dependable experts to assist you in audio production and technical support. Taking raw audio and getting it into a format that’s presentable takes a special production talent. Technical aspects such as timing segments appropriately, selecting music (if desired) and getting the product ready for an RSS or XML Feed to the listener’s podcaster all take very specialized creative skills.

Getting Started – The Technical Basics

Generally speaking, creating a podcasting initiative is relatively inexpensive. (But not free.) In addition to a hosting service, which will likely run about $20 a month, the basic equipment you will need to produce your own podcast includes a microphone, headphones, and recording and editing equipment.

Both Carol Vassar (NESHCO webinar) and a recent Wall Street Journal review singled out Blue Yeti as a high quality microphone brand ideal for podcasting. It can plug directly into your computer’s USB. Cost-wise it runs around $130.

High quality headphones are essential so that you can monitor various levels while you’re recording. Sony’s studio-quality MDR-7506 headphones ($99-$130) are an option again recommended by both Vassar and the WSJ. Vassar also recommends the AKG K2450 ($70) and the Audio Technica ATHM20X ($50) as cost-efficient alternatives. Avoid buying headphones where the microphone is attached. It might work well for telephone call centers, but not for radio or podcasts.

As for editing software, there are several good options available. Apple’s GarageBand is one free option that is user-friendly and also compatible with iTunes. Audacity® is free, open source, cross-platform audio software for multi-track recording and editing. Audacity is available for Windows®, Mac®, GNU/Linux® and other operating systems. Finally, Hindenburg is another low-cost editing software made specifically for radio and podcast users that’s easy to use and provides a lot of powerful editing and mixing features.

Those are the basics you will need to get started. Naturally costs will increase if you opt for more creative services such as professional voiceovers, music licensing fees or professional editing services.

As we’ve seen from the recent spate of mergers, acquisitions, affiliations and IPOs, the healthcare marketplace is only getting more competitive.  For healthcare communicators trying to get an edge, podcasting may be a viable and affordable avenue to consider.