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Sounding Off - Effectively

Joanne Hamilton
Foley, Alabama, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 33 No. 1, February-March 1997, p. 19

At the age of nine, aggravated by a screwoff bottle cap that didn't, I wrote to a soft drink manufacturer. Several weeks later one of their delivery trucks arrived with a complimentary case. The driver even sat down to ask me more questions about my complaint. That was when I realized that consumer satisfaction is a serious matter.

As an adult in the working world I saw firsthand the action taken on customer letters. Investigation of complaints was given priority; problems were solved if at all possible. No praise from my supervisor ever meant as much as reading a letter on the employee bulletin board, "Excellent service, Joanne," from the real boss-- the customer.

Issues are not so different from products. When I see a one-sided portrayal on television or in a magazine or newspaper- you guessed it- I write a letter. Since breastfeeding and parenting issues receive a great deal of media attention today, I'm kept pretty busy.

Some people might say, "I'm just one person; why would an editor/producer care what I think?" Chances are many people feel just as strongly but most won't take the time to write. The media know this. One estimate I read said that for every disgruntled reader or viewer who writes there are another 500-700 who didn't.

Your views do count. Here are suggestions for getting them to the people who care.

Consider the source. Recently I complained to a parenting magazine about an article containing a whole list of equipment "needed" for breastfeeding. I wrote that bottles, pumps and all the rest were not necessary, only optional. If the article had appeared in a magazine geared to employed mothers, I would not have complained.

Write as an individual, not as a representative of a group. If a magazine receives a number of letters disagreeing with an article all signed by women who say they are LLL Leaders or members, the letters will probably count only as one. The perception might be, "We've offended LLL, but that's all." If we all write as individuals, they can't be sure how many different groups they have offended.

When I wrote to the producers of a television news show focusing on breastfeeding "failures," I mentioned La Leche League but I did not identify myself as a Leader. I pointed out that "many women find support groups such as LLL helpful." When an LLL response is needed, there is a chain of events that must take place first. Leaders concerned about something they read or see are encouraged to contact their Area Coordinator of Leaders or the Public Relations Department at LLLI Headquarters. Sometimes a Leader will be designated to respond; other times someone from Headquarters staff or an appropriate resource person in the country or Affiliate will respond.

Keep your letter brief and to the point. We can't change the world in one letter; attempting to do so dilutes the message. State what you like, what you don't and why. Credibility may be enhanced if you refer to a published resource but be exact in your reference.

Avoid the temptation to be sarcastic, rude or angry. As the saying goes, "A squeaky wheel gets the grease while a blown-out tire gets replaced." A thoughtful, reasonable letter is more effective then one full of insults, accusations and threats.

Direct your letter correctly. Magazines and newspapers usually have an editorial address, which may be different from the one for subscriptions and other correspondence. Addresses for television networks and cable stations can often be found in the schedule guide. If you don't know the name of a specific person, use a title such as producer, director of marketing, etc.

Neatness counts. My handwriting is dreadful so I always type. A neatly written letter is fine but consider the appearance before you use neon ink on wild stationary. Yes, your letter will be noticed but will it be taken seriously?

Don't be discouraged if you don't get a response. Almost every "Letters" column says it: "Due to the large volume of mail received, we regret that we cannot reply personally." Editors usually choose a representative sample for publication; even if yours is not included, be assured that it is read.

For all the media-bashing in the last few years, I'm convinced that they give us what they think we want. Let them know what that is-- one letter at a time.

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