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How to Reach Politicians and Media Outlets

Writing effective letters is the foundation of social activism. It’s one of the best ways to communicate your thoughts and feelings effectively to your target audience. However, writing and communicating effectively with politicians, journalists, and media outlets doesn’t come naturally to us all. Here, we’ll guide you through the dos and don’ts of how to write letters that incite action and change in others.

Letter Writing Dos

  • Be Succinct: Brevity is important here. Remember that your letter will be one of many to pass over the desk of the person who’s reading it, so you need to keep their attention. You need to grab their attention, keep to the point, and leave them with a complete understanding of what you’re asking them to do or acknowledge.

  • Address the Right Person: If you address the wrong person, misspell a name, or use the wrong pronouns, they may not listen to what you have to say. So, do your research about who you’re going to reach, and keep things as polite and general as possible if you aren’t sure. “Dear Sir or Madam” is always a safe choice if you aren’t sure. “To whom it may concern” is another option, but it lacks connection. Also, consider any additional readers. For instance, if you write to a member of parliament about a problem and copy additional people outside of the political system, you will have to use broader terms of reference.

  • Pay Attention to Your Formatting: Outside of books and academic essays, no one likes being presented with a wall of text. This goes for letters, too. In longer letters, use headings as road signs that tell the reader when they've gotten there. Break up your letter with headings, short paragraphs, and bullet points or numbered lists - make your letter as consumable as possible.

  • Organize letters to meet your users' needs. Always start by putting your main message upfront. Some people feel that bad news should be buried. But research shows that readers will always look for the bottom line. 

  • Use Clear Images (Where Applicable): For press releases (if you’re contacting a journalist, for example) or letters where you wish to convey data or imagery, make sure you include clear, high-definition images. Not all letters require an image, but a clear graph can better capture your audience’s attention and clearly convey your message. Our eyes are drawn to images and graphics, so use them if you believe it will empower your message.

  • Start Strong: If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class or written for a publication, you know that your first line matters. The same method of hooking your reader can be used in letters and press releases, too. Start your letter strong, clearly state what you’re going to address, a problem or injustice that is happening in the community, or another factor that is most important. Give your reader a reason to read on. It doesn’t need to be memorable, it just needs to get the attention of the reader so they are compelled to read more.

  • Proofread Your Work: For better or worse, multiple typos can make you look careless and uneducated in the eyes of some. Fortunately, there are many tools online that can help you ensure your letter is as error-free as possible. Alternatively, ask a friend to read it through for you.

  • Be Passionate, But Keep it Professional: We are talking about issues that get us riled up and ready to take action, but don’t let your passion or temper get the better of you. Make sure your language is impassioned but not accusatory. Don’t point the blame or insult anyone; clearly state what you wish to address, why, and what you want them to do in response.

  • Use lots of lists in letters. Vertical lists highlight important topics and make it easy for the reader to identify all elements in a series of requirements or procedures. A list is easier to respond to than a large paragraph.

Letter Writing Don’ts

  • Write an Academic Essay: As we talked about above, long paragraphs are difficult to read. Remember this is a letter - err on the side of conversational over academic.

  • Focus on “Me” for Too Long: You may be right in the middle of the problem you are experiencing. If so, absolutely talk about your personal experiences, but just be wary of talking about yourself for too long. When you’re trying to persuade someone to do something, you need to make it about them. In this case, why should they care? Focus on that.

  • Lose Composure: As soon as you start to sound like someone starting an argument or slinging insults, you’ll lose your credibility.

  • Use the Wrong Tone: What’s your reaction when someone speaks to you in a cold tone? Do you tune out of the conversation; pay more attention to the tone than the content; or walk away? Readers do much the same thing.

     

    Accusatory use of you     Better tone not assigning blame
    You are dead wrong.         

    I did not understand how that position
    reconciles with a balanced budget.
    fiscal balance/ environmental sustainability etc.                                             

    You are selling us down the river.   The ministry has not taken the welfare
    of Canadians into account.
    You are leading us over a cliff.  

    How can we hope to prosper without
    a long term strategy which takes
    these vital factors into account?

    We believe that Canadian public policy
    has failed Canadians to this point because ..
          

      

How to Write to Reporters & Journalists

Journalists and media outlets are extremely important in ensuring your messaging gets out to the people that need to hear it, so your aim should be to develop a relationship with the journalists you contact. Here are some tips to help you make all the right moves:

  1. Consider all types of media: newspapers, blogs, radio, television, podcasts, YouTube channels, and so on. Small publications can be just as important to your cause as large ones.

  2. Familiarize yourself with any publication before you reach out to them. Read/watch/listen to what they produce, their staff, and the angle they present things in.

  3. Pitch them your messaging. Remember, their job is to present stories and messages that will connect with their readers and invoke a response of some kind. Show them why they should care about your message.

  4. Respect them and their time. They may not be interested right now, but continue to nurture the relationship. Don’t burn bridges simply because they aren’t interested (or able to be interested) in what you want to get out to the world now. They may be key in the future.

  5. Have a press release and photos ready to go. This isn’t always necessary, but it’s a good idea to have it ready if you think it may be relevant.

How to Write Letters to Government

Don’t be afraid to address your MPs, Environment Minister, and PM directly in a letter. You are important and your letter does matter. Follow the advice above when you write to them and clearly convey your concerns. At the end of the letter, ask a question. If you don’t hear anything back, be persistent, and send another. You deserve to be heard.

Establish your well-founded concerns through the display of expertise. Your mission is to inform and persuade the reader. Deal with the facts in the context of an overall vision.

    • Where should we be going?

    • How are we going to get there?

    • How do we measure our progress?

    • Appeal to the reader’s sense of fairness and accountability.

    • Differentiate between public interest and minority interests and stress the need to keep a level playing field and reduce corruption.

    • Make the letter easy to read and reference. Make a logical argument.

Brevity is critical.

Your reader does not have all of the time in the world and yours is not the only letter they will receive in a day. Make sure your letter is one of the best they receive all month.

A picture is better than a thousand words.

Not only that, but the message is instantly absorbed. Some people like graphs and some don’t. Some simply can’t process them but virtually everyone can process a picture. Find a good one and use it. 

Explain why is the current policy wrong or inadequate:

  • Failure of vision to look down the road.

  • Failure of research to understand the process of real wealth creation.

  • Failure of integrity to clearly define public interest vs that of powerful interest groups.

  • Failure of experience to understand the system and social dynamics.

  • Failure of character to forego small current sacrifices to avoid large long-term problems.

A responsible policy should be based on:

  • Citizen well-being

  • Fiscal balance

  • Environmental Balance

  • International Responsibilities

  • Long term national goals

Demand a response:

  • Ask what their objectives are

  • Ask if business as usual is sustainable

  • Ask if they have a coherent strategy

  • Point out errors in logic

  

Sustainable change starts with you!

Here’s how you can affect change.

Learn how you can drive change through the media and your politicians as well as your own actions here.

Share this article on your social media accounts to spread awareness.

 

Learn more about sustainability in Canada:

 

 

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