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Public Relations Basics: How to Respond to Critics

No matter the size of your business or organization, there will always be critics. How you respond to these critics — publicly and privately — is very important. Writing a correction letter to a newspaper or magazine is often the easiest (and cheapest) public relations strategy when responding to critics. But it’s not always easy to get your opinion heard and taken into consideration, and/or to set the facts straight. Especially when the recipient of the communication is a total stranger, it’s important for your correction letter to follow these nine steps.

1. The subject line of your email should be clear. Either state the company name in some fashion, or utilize the title of the article. Do not send an email with a blank subject line, or with an off-topic or confrontational subject line.

2. Address the recipient of the email. Do not simply launch into your complaint. It is common courtesy to address and greet someone.

3. Let the recipient know whether or not the communication is on or off the record. Anytime you correspond in writing with someone who is a member of the media–be it a journalist, blogger, etc.– you should make it clear whether your intent is to communicate publicly or privately.

4. State who you are. It’s important to provide the recipient with context. “My name is Jane Doe, and I am the vice president of corporate communications for Company A.”

5. State clearly why you are writing. Are you writing to correct facts? Are you writing because you do not agree with the writer’s opinion? Are you writing because you simply felt compelled to respond and address certain issues? Think about making a business-related phone call. When you call a business contact, you begin with a greeting, then you address the person, and then you state why you are calling. You should do the same in business correspondence.

6. If you are writing to correct inaccurate information, tell the recipient what information is inaccurate, and provide him or her with the correct information. Do not simply say “you are wrong.” Give the person the correct information, and if it can be found somewhere, tell him or her where to find it.

7. If you are writing because you do not agree with someone’s opinions or analysis, do not foam at the mouth. Writing is a subtle art, and it is sometimes difficult to gauge the true emotions of a writer. Do not be afraid to state that you’re upset. But a calm statement carries a lot more weight and gives the recipient a lot more reason to pause than a string of obscenities or outrageous emotional outbursts.

8. Conclude your correction letter by offering to speak on the telephone or further communicate via email. If you are asking for a correction, or believe that a response is necessary, write, “I look forward to your response.” Also include a valediction. Do not simply end the email with your signature.

9. Be sure to include your contact information, name, and title.

Firing off angry and nonsensical emails to the media, analysts, or other third parties is only going to back up their criticism, so it is important that you treat a correction letter with care. You should act professionally and extend the same courtesy that you expect in return. Otherwise, your letter will accomplish nothing.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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