How researchers get heard
Abstract lines

Letter-to-the-Editor Mode

No one builds their communications strategy around writing letters to editors.

So why is so much research communications still stuck in letter-to-the-editor mode?

When you write a letter to an editor, you stick a message into a bottle that

  • Is 100 percent reactive to another current (i.e., to someone else’s idea);
  • Will surface on some unknown shore at some unknown point (i.e., someone else’s platform), beaten and bruised by their style guide and word count;
  • Will be indistinguishable from the surrounding message flotsam; and
  • Has no sense who or if anyone will read it (target audience).

Writing a letter to an editor is fake communications. It gives you nothing more than the ability to say you did something to someone to whom you need to say that (even if that person is yourself). You can’t build anything off a letter to the editor. And you can’t measure its impact. (Good thing; because it almost certainly doesn’t have any.)

So we don’t write letters to editors anymore, except to intervene in hyper-localized debates.

Yet we’re in letter-to-the-editor mode all the time.

If you see a fellow authority’s piece of thought leadership that you had the idea for first but haven’t made the time to put out there, you were in stealth letter-to-the-editor mode — waiting for something to push you. Too late.

Being on Twitter more than 10 percent of the day, firing off on other tweets: letter-to-the-editor mode.

Letting events or new papers or partners or funders drive your comms strategy: perpetual letter writing to indifferent editors.

Publishing content about a barely coherent group of issues that “we do work on” but that don’t add up to an identity, narrative or ideas campaign: so many letters, fluttering down like random snowflakes to melt and vanish.

Nobody reads letters to the editor. Except to make fun of the people who write letters to the editor.

Research expertise can define conversations.

So why do you spend so much time writing letters about the ones you didn’t start?