Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Lessons from the "if at first you don't succeed" school of communications

People wishing to protest legislation and other actions by the current U.S. administration have been hitting a brick wall: They're told that too many calls and emails have prompted some members of Congress to stop taking or responding to those calls. Likewise, some town hall meetings have been shut down in progress, or simply not held. But there's a great lesson from the "if at first you don't succeed" school of communications for companies and resistors alike in a recent letter to the editor.

In this letter to the editor published in the Fresno Bee, Katie Dooley, herself a former congressional staffer, detailed her many attempts to call her current member of Congress to express dismay over changes to the Affordable Care Act, to no avail.  Titled "Good luck calling Valadao's office," the letter had the potential to a daily readership of more than 264,000 in print and online, according to the Bee's circulation data.

Here's what you can learn from this four-paragraph letter:
  • It takes a stymied communications channel and opens up another one: Too often, both individuals and companies get stuck piling all their communications hopes and dreams on one particular channel, be an article in the New York Times or an op-ed or even a phone call. But when one door closes, you need to open another. You might want to consult my list of things you can do instead of a press release to get some ideas.
  • It uses the blocked communications as the fulcrum for complaint: Dooley shares one piece of data about the health legislation--how many people in that district will lose insurance--toward the end of the letter. While her original complaint was about the substance of the act, highlighting her new complaint, a lack of access to her representative, makes for an even more effective opinion piece.
  • It landed the one-two punch that makes op-eds and letters to the editor effective: That one-two punch goes like this: Read just the first and last paragraphs together. Do they give you the full argument? That's just what your opinion pieces should aim for.
By the way, once you have a short, well-structure op-ed or letter, it also can serve as a short speech...as a blog post...as an email message...and as talking points for a media interview. Recycling that effort is just another way to try, try again when your first comms option fails. A hat tip to Alicia Aebersold for sharing this letter to the editor!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Leah Buckley)

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