Letters and emails are the simplest method of engaging with a company and available to anyone – not only shareholders. Companies are aware that if one person takes the trouble to write about a particular issue, it is likely that many others also care about it. If you can persuade others to write to the company too, your engagement is likely to have a stronger impact.
Pitch your letter at a high enough level within the company to get a useful response. This will often be the chief executive officer (CEO), chief operations officer or a senior board director with responsibility for sustainable development, corporate responsibility or community relations. When in doubt, write to the CEO.
Letters tend to work best when they directly ask the company a question or seek reassurances about the company’s actions on a particular issue. Doing this makes it
clear that you expect a reply. It gives the company a framework for its response.
When writing, any information you include needs to be strictly accurate, especially if you refer to something you believe the company has done wrong. If you lack direct evidence, write something along the lines of “We understand that you…” rather than “You did …”.
Companies tend to respond to letters, although sometimes there can be a lengthy
delay and you may have to write again to get a response. The quality of replies varies enormously. The company may send a very generalised response and not answer your question, so you may have to follow up with more detailed questions. Some companies send so much information (such as corporate responsibility and sustainability reports, project plans and corporate magazines) with their reply that it would take hours to read it all. Not all of this information will be pertinent to your concerns and it is important not to get sidetracked.
Overall, writing a letter or email is a good and relatively easy way to make contact with and get some information from a company. It ensures that there is an official and undisputable record of your dialogue, and can be done from a distance. In some instances it can also lead to other forms of engaging such as formal meetings.